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Taking Writers Away from Their Work

I had a writerly conversation recently — two, actually — which seemed almost suspiciously perfect for my first blog post. The first with Bill Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man), the second with Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed).

Both are wonderful writers and people. (Both are almost sexuality-questioningly handsome.) And both were talking about whether there are too many forces today that yank the writer from her desk.

Joshua, before a reading at NYU, was concerned that going on tour and writing reviews (and also things like the good old Powell's blog) take away from the "one responsibility of the writer," i.e., the work. And Bill, in a joint interview we did for Smith magazine, was saying that some of the best writers he represents (somehow, he's also a species of megastar agent) don't involve themselves with Twitter or Facebook. I found myself agreeing when these guys were talking — I do that; I'm a blackboard, and smart people can write their opinions all over me — but when I thought about it later I wasn't so sure.

In the different context of the mid-20th century, E. M. Forster declared that writers should "only connect." For all the annoyances of Facebook ("I'm working on a novel about dogs; can anyone send me some info on their spaniel?") or Twitter ("Taking a dump right now: Here's a jpeg"), they do bring writers closer to their readers than ever.

Half a Life is my fourth book and first memoir: it's about something terrible that happened when I was in high school. And via Facebook and email, I've gotten literally hundreds of emails from people who were going through similar adversities, or who were just dealing with grief and guilt of some kind. (The book is largely about how to push through guilt you may not deserve and grief you can't express.) And that's been rewarding, helpful for me and the readers, I think. (I didn't set out to write a self-help book — or so many parentheses — but I think, if I did my job right, the book is self-helpful.)

÷ ÷ ÷

Darin Strauss is the author of the international bestseller Chang and Eng, the New York Times Notable Book The Real McCoy, and the national bestseller More Than It Hurts You. The recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction writing, he teaches writing at New York University.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Chang and Eng Used Trade Paper $3.50

  2. More Than It Hurts You
    Used Hardcover $5.50
  3. Portrait of an Addict as a Young...
    Used Hardcover $2.98
  4. Half a Life
    Used Hardcover $7.95
  5. The Unnamed
    Used Trade Paper $4.95

Darin Strauss is the author of Half a Life

One Response to "Taking Writers Away from Their Work"

    Anne Zimmerman October 6th, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Interesting post! I just finished my first book, a biography of the food writer M.F.K. Fisher. I'm being advised that blogging, tweeting, and facebooking is a must -- essential to selling my book and getting my name out there. But not only does it take me away from my desk, it makes me feel a bit like I am shamelessly hawking the book I spent seven years pouring my heart into. I'm a bit ambivalent about it. I remind myself daily that balance is key, and hope my book is strong enough to stand on its own.

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