Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The best metaphor for being a writer...

“The best metaphor I know of for being a writer...is in Don DeLillo’s Mao II, where he describes the book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (i.e. dragging itself across the floor of restaurants where the writer is trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the writer’s bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.”
~David Foster Wallace talks about writing Infinite Jest, 1997.

Foster says that the damaged infant metaphor is perfect because “it captures the mix of repulsion and love the fiction writer feels for something he’s working on.” You do not have the same level of freedom as other people, yet you seldom resent the responsibility you must carry because of the love you feel for the child/writing. When you do resent it, Foster says, “you hate it - hate it...because its deformity is your deformity.”
I understand feeling like the work is always in progress. I understand feeling that there are not enough hours in a day to make the work stand up and do its own thing. You want other people to see/read your child/writing and see the beauty and perfection, not the deformity. You spend more time taking ugliness and imperfection and dressing it so that it flows and is beautiful than you do actually writing.

This I understand.


  1. I am excited for you and the book ... and envious. I thought you might be working on one when you posted the Family Guy clip about Bryan’s novel last May.

    “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” -Nicholas Sparks

  2. Ah, yes. This is great.

    I'll bet DeLillo got that metaphor from Anne Bradstreet, who has that poem from the 1600s about her books as little deformed children that she loves but is embarrassed to send out into the world.

  3. I am a poet and I prefer poetry, because I want to say exactly what I want to say and not pad like a lot of novelists do.

  4. So true Kelly! Aren't you glad that you're half-way finished!?

  5. Alison - I wondered that about the DeLillo quote too! Love Bradstreet.

    Paul - I know; novelists suck.

    So glad to have the half finished...I'm going to be wordless for about four days. Perhaps a little roller skating tomorrow will make by brain work again!


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