Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

how can it be both?

Doris Lessing says that writers don’t need memoirs or biographies.The writer reveals herself through her writing. She says, for instance, that you can clearly understand Dickens by reading his novels. You can see his different personalities. His novels are a map of who he is.

Scott Trurow taught himself to write by studying Dickens.

Lessing is always urging us to experience life directly instead of “through a screen of theories, ideas, political correctness, and so forth.” That is not so easily done.

I went to see Midnight in Paris last night which is about learning to find contentment where we are, but it made me want to find contentment in Paris.

Writing is both deeply personal and oddly impersonal at the same time. My friend Susan Coast always said that when you tell a story it stops belonging to you. It belongs to whoever hears it. I’ve felt that way about my own writing. On one hand, I’m mortified by the way in which my writing exposes me.  But, at the same time, I feel like once I put something down on paper it has nothing to do with me.

Categories: belief, films, memoir, travel, writing

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3 replies

  1. That’s a really interesting perspective, Alison. I’ve only recently started writing again after falling off the wagon years ago, and memoir is what got me writing again. Though I can admire Doris Lessing’s thought, it somehow seems out of reach for me, and I’m not sure I’d ever be such a great writer as to be able to reveal myself by fiction writing alone. It’s a thought, though – something I think I’ll chew on for a while.

    I have found in writing a memoir over the past year that I’m more comfortable exposing myself than I am exposing those others in my life about which I write. I haven’t held back in my writing at all – but I’ve reached a bit of an impasse, in that I have yet to put my writing in front of most people that are part of the story, and I have fears about hurting them, justified or not.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  2. I used to say that the characters in my novels have nothing to do with me, but of course that can’t be true. Everything we do has something to do with who we are. Lessing makes an interesting point about autobiography– she says that an autobiography is what the writer thinks of his or her life at a particular point in time. Doesn’t it always change?
    I do know what you mean about writing about other people. I used to think everything was fair game for the sake of art, but I don’t believe that anymore. thank you for commenting, eastbaywriter. Please let me know how it goes.

  3. Agreed, perspective always changes, but that somehow makes the concept of memoir even more enticing to me. In reality, I’m still trying to figure out what my perspective is, which tends to complicate the process, but make it a learning endeavor, as well. Maybe it is all just a vicious circle!

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