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Friday, July 19, 2013

Fitzgerald's Advice on Writing

One of my roommates shared this page with me earlier this week. It takes selections from two letters that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, one in response to a friend who had sent him a fresh story and was looking for critical advice, and the other to his daughter, Scottie. You should read them both. It won't take you more than a few minutes.

I like what he says, but with reservations, which I explained to my roommate as follows (Read the letters before you read my response! Form your own opinions before you take mine into consideration.):
Thanks, Mary! I've recently had a breakthrough with Fitzgerald (I think, although, I wonder if it's possible to think you've had a breakthrough, or, if it's a genuine breakthrough, you just know it) where I realized where he goes wrong, or perhaps I should say doesn't go far enough, even though he's going right. My hypothesis is that Evelyn Waugh is the answer to Fitzgerald's hopelessness. Same struggles, same lost hopelessness and yearning in the characters, but somehow Waugh's figure it out, even if they're miserable along the way. Now, all of that being said, I suspect that the reason I don't want to swallow this Fitzgerald advice whole is that it isn't whole. I like what he says, and I agree with it , but I think it's only part of the truth; he doesn't go quite far enough, even though he's going right. What I'm driving at is that he's missing the necessary emphasis on the reasonable aspect of writing; he circumlocutionally implies its eventual presence in his talk of the style and technique that come with time, but the heavy emphasis that he puts on the heartfelt, heartrending, heartaching heartbreak aspect, which is necessary, lacks the tempering that it needs. Or perhaps, not tempering, because if you temper it it loses what makes it it, but maybe addition.
Yes, I just quoted myself. I hope you're okay with that. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on his advice, and on my reaction to it. All writers have an opinion on the writing process. Please, do tell.

Photo Courtesy of Margaret Antunes
N.B. Regarding the adverb circumlocutionally: it took four editors in my office putting our heads together to come up with the proper adverbial form of circumlocution. I was really hoping it would be circumlocutorily, but apparently that's incorrect. It's little things like this that are the best part of my job. I mean, really, where else can I get encouragement and company in geeking out over obscure adverbs?


  1. Honestly, I think 'circumlocutionally' is a silly word, if it is a word. My word processor is happily underlining it in the great squiggly red line. It suggests 'circumlocution ally'. Ha! That being said, isn't squiggily (red lined) more fun to say than squiggly.
    As to Fitzgerald, he lacks the Truth. He doesn't know what suffering is about, while he knows what it is. That is why he is ultimately unsatisfying. And so, so sad. Could you ever see him writing about sin the way Julia speaks of it? And yet she and Sebastian are never quite so lost as Fitzgerald's characters, because they know about that 'thread'. Lost generation indeed. We should pray for him, if that doesn't sound too politically incorrect or superior. He writes far better than I ever will.

  2. Well well, let's see, regarding old Fitzgerald:
    I think that what he says circumlocutionally
    Is true but backward, speaking evolutionally--
    That is, he says that after one has barreled
    Headlong into the heartache that will herald
    A passion which transforms the soul ablutionally,
    One THEN should learn one's logic institutionally,
    Lest passion by precision be imperiled.

    I very, very strongly do concur
    That poet's passion comes from shattered hearts;
    But one must train one's mind first, I aver,
    With craft and reason, both in equal parts,
    To seed the spirit's soil with thoughts and words
    Ere God sends sun and rain to bloom the arts.

  3. Is "circumlocutionally" a roundabout sort of way of saying "in a roundabout sort of way"?