If I have a religion, it is probably bibliomancy, the practice of flipping books open at random and reading from the quote I find.
Fear of the world produces crystals in writing. One seeks the faultless, crystallized phrases, perfection, the hard polish of the gems, and then finds that people prefer the sloppy writers, the inchoate, the untidy, the unfocused ones because it is more human. To jewels, they prefer human imperfections, moisture of perspiration, bad smells, stutterings, and all the time I keep this for the diary and give the world only jewels.
That’s from the journals of Anaïs Nin, Volume II, page 52, at the end of July 1935.
I have lately seen a lot of praise for not being perfect. I like this above quote because it encourages the writer to just be alive. I’ve written some about this disjunct, how readers prefer story over style, in my post on Ender’s Game, and back then I was only amazed at the seemingly childish attack on style Card makes in the new preface to the current edition. But it has been on my mind lately, the idea that style doesn’t matter, the uselessness to a writer in being a master of style. Master of story, yes. I will always love style, to be clear—I am now taking a break in writing, for example, from a revision that involves retyping the manuscript of the second novel, which I am doing because it is the best way to pay attention to the whole story—a very old-school way to proceed, yes, but that’s because it works. Retyping allows you to edit it in an intuitive way that cut and paste can’t reach. And yes, it also helps the writer revise to tone, something I’ve always loved. Oh well. Me and my useless love of style.
The woman pictured here is the Comtesse de Castilgione, a character in my new novel and a real figure from history. She was one of the legendary beauties of 19th Century Paris and the milieu surrounding the court of the Second Empire, the ambassador to France from Italy. She was something of a Second Empire Cindy Sherman. She hid herself from society as she aged, afraid of allowing people to see her beauty in decline, but before that happened, photographed herself relentlessly in her favorite costumes to commemorate scenes from her life. The Met organized a beautiful show and catalogue around these portraits.
I know I haven’t updated in a while, and if you’re wondering, “what is he up to?” The answer is, thinking about her. I am delivering edits on the manuscript before I begin teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for the spring semester, and there’s not much time for anything else. I am trying to live up to being put on The Millions Most Anticipated List, basically. Anyway, we return to regular updates soon.