From the Q and A section of Jon McGregor’s website – in answer to a question about the pens and paper he uses to write with.
As always, I’m in two minds. I’m not sure if I should have this quotation printed out on the back of my business cards, tattooed on the inside of my eyelids and scrawled in black marker on the wall in front of my desk – or if I should write a long ranty blog post about how much I disagree with the sentiment.
I admire Jon McGregor’s work hugely and as a writer I can hear his frustration with interview questions about typewriters and at times I have shared it. But then discussions about ‘process’ more generally are a huge part of what I do as a teacher – helping students to learn technique, or to isolate and improve the technique they are already using instinctively. I think having students reflect on how they write and to examine how other writers read and write is integral to their improvement.And it is what I try to do to improve my own writing.
But then again, what do I know? I am always in two minds about everything.
I’ve noticed several spats going on in facebookland recently about various political events – topics I never talk about in public at all. This silence of mine is because I believe the days when novelists had status as public intellectuals and rent-a-gobs, trotted out for an opinion on every major event in public life are gone, and properly so. We make things up, more or less well. We use stories to comment on the real world. Or we don’t. We use fiction to tell the truth. Or we don’t. Why would any of that make our opinions especially valuable?
And my silence also exists because I am so utterly of my generation it is unreal. I find it more or less impossible to come down on any particular side in very many subjects. Everything I write examines the idea of truthfulness, of reliable arguments, of words meaning what they are supposed to mean. Point of view. It isn’t that I don’t care – it’s just that by virtue of being a writer I think I’ve made it impossible for myself to engage with these debates in any meaningful way.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a household where there was certainly a right and a wrong way to see the world, and my opinions about things were consistently wrong. Growing up under the weight of that kind of intellectual violence makes me uninterested in dishing it out to others. So if you disagree with me, I’m not interested in proving you wrong or convincing you to think what I think. If I even think it.
It feels very important to me to practice informed disinterest. I know it is an impossible stance to truly have. But I am interested in getting there.
Which brings me back to Jon McGregor. Maybe he’s right and I’m wrong after all.
Maybe all this blogging about writing, teaching writing, reading writing and talking about reading is just getting in the way of the reading and writing. Maybe the reflection is the final step of the process, maybe it’s just all hot air.
I think it probably depends.
And if this all sounds like cowardly navel gazing and a waste of words to you, well, I can see the value in that argument too.