It's over a year old, but I only now just read Arthur A. Levine's
post on what makes a good book good
...isn’t this the exact question a writer asks himself when sitting down to write? What do I have to say that is original, that contributes, that hasn’t already been done, said, written a thousand times before.
Of course when I’m in the editor’s chair I have an answer for this. I tell the concerned author that it isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it that makes an important, a worthwhile story. After all, books are like people—there are only so many positive qualities going around: intelligence, sensitivity, humor, physical attractiveness. As a person you can’t realistically think you can reinvent these categories in order to make an impact—to get people to like and notice you. It’s the particular combination of those qualities that makes you an individual, that draws people to you or repels them.
(I can already hear some of you sputtering, "But what about...?" FWIW, I was too (I share mrissa
's "can't say never 'cause..."
problem. Though it's not really a problem, just a nuisance when one's itching to indulge in a Categorical Declaration instead of a Long-Ass Parenthetical Tangent. That, and the phrase "only so many" is automatically a red flag, even though he means well).
Still, I like what he said anyway. Mainly because he goes on...
....people often ask me how I stay responsive to wonderful new manuscripts when I read so many every week, every day. The good news and the bad news is that the really special ones stand out as distinctly as real flowers in a shop full of plastic imitations. And it’s just like that really. The actual, living flower, has a smell. It isn’t perfect, it’s colors can be off a bit. But it’s REAL and you know it.
And, he really does use the phrase "channeled kosher raisins" later in the speech.)
On the personal level, I'm at the dining room table with a plate of chicken livers and my second can of cherry Coke and a whole heap of whaling-through to whale through: Currently frustrated with a story because I've identified at least six places (in addition to the editors' concerns) that don't seem real enough to me now that I've had a month away from it. (But I did fix one problem tonight. 500 words up; I'm guessing there'll be another 1,000-2,000 net once I excise the glib bits and come up with whatever should be said. Currently inching along on the essay I'd intended to wrap up last weekend, but I'm going to have to tear myself away from it in a few minutes because I still need to (1) finish reading the playscript a student loaned to me on Dorothy L. Sayers, and (2) pull together my outline for today's lecture. Other stuff due this month: The sermon, three courseware scripts, two other essays, an HP illustration, and a poem on Francis Cabrel's eyeglasses are all simmering on my mental back burners, but I can't do anything about them right now.
Anyway, I was looking up a detail for El Essay when I came across Levine's blog, which is what prompted this post. So, back to it I go.
ETA: ....And, this from the Spring 2007 Signals catalog: "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called Research." - Einstein