by Hannah Roveto
From a letter by Shelby Foote to Walker Percy:
"I think a writer's mistakes are infinitely more interesting than any editor's "corrections" (and mind you, a critic is only an editor-once-removed) -- I think no one can have the view of the book the writer himself has, the CREATIVE view... It sometimes happens that certain scenes have no evident function; the critic says, Take this out. But these very scenes work in some way to bring out the total effect, heighten the contiguous scenes, and give the whole book its peculiar individuality. Yet any smart editor would have cut them -- I'm not talking about a dummy, I mean really smart: the speed of the book would have been picked up, the reading would go better... but don't you see? It wouldn't be the same book. A man must learn from his mistakes (even granting he was wrong) -- from MAKING them, not from being saved from them."
Foote goes on to say each book has its own problems, but still, "A man must write for himself, and then he must accept the penalties -- including the possibility of damnation."
I've reread this letter several times in the past two days, thinking of it in light of our last group meeting. The first chunk of my revisions were read (positive reaction!) and we also discussed reviews. (Three votes to "read once," one vote to ignore altogether.)
Shelby Foote is onto something. The weight criticism is given must come from the writer, and nowhere else. Commentary must be screened in light of how much we trust and respect the reviewer (so pick people you trust on your journey!), and its usefulness in identifying mistakes. If in our heart of hearts what lies on the page is something we have to go forward with, then we've made our choice; no matter the reaction, it was the right choice.
My mother is an artist, a jeweler, and even pieces made as recently as a year ago are sometimes melted down. She has learned a new technique. She has changed, improved, and those pieces reflect a lesser benchmark. Some pieces she believed in, that others said weren't right for their shows, have gone on to be in museums and in gorgeous coffee table books. Some pieces she has "outgrown" but saved get rave reviews. She doesn't agree with them, either, any longer. What I see in her is that she is never her review, and she is not even her work. The work reflects a side of her at one particular point in time. She knows this, deep in her heart, and continues to learn and to evolve. As Shelby Foote notes, "Life is long and the individual facets of Art are fleeting, except of course in the long view: which no writer ever takes, being a peculiar sort of fool, and therefore wise."
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
by Hannah Roveto