Tag Archives: Squaw Valley Community of Writers

Reading Cheever

8 Aug
Reading Cheever

Me and Cheever on a sunny summer afternoon.

I’ve been thinking about John Cheever quite a bit lately, particularly after reading this New Yorker article about Cheever’s unique and artful language choices. Shortly after, I started seeing his name everywhere: in articles and interviews, even in conversations. It seemed like everyone was thinking about Cheever.

I talked with a friend about this recently, and she asked me if I’d read much Cheever. I thought about it and I know that I definitely have, although the only story I could remember reading for sure was “The Swimmer”. My friend told me she ordered his collected stories, and it sounded like a good idea so I ordered a copy for myself.

In the (mercifully) brief preface, Cheever wrote:

Any precise documentation of one’s immaturity is embarrassing, and this I find from time to time in the stories, but this embarrassment is redeemed for me by the memories the stories hold for me of the women and men I have loved and the rooms and corridors and beaches where the stories were written. My favorite stories are those that were written in less than a week and that were often composed aloud.

What I like about this passage is that Cheever acknowledges that his earlier stories were not as strong as his later ones, but nonetheless, they’re important to him and serve as memories of his past. I’ve read about authors who admit to being embarrassed by their early works, but I think it’s helpful to be able to see a writer’s development over time, especially a writer as revered as Cheever.

So far, I’ve read four of his early stories in this collection, and it’s fascinating to be able to recognize how flawed they are, and yet, how impressive, particularly the language. Even stories that felt contrived, or lopsided in some way were still pleasurable to read because of the language.

Artful, precise language, strong metaphors and analogies are all important components in a sophisticated story. Those aspects are what elevate a piece of fiction to an art form, to Literature with a capital “L”. I was given this lesson recently while at Squaw, when an agent workshopped my story and called me out for instances of “lazy writing”. I’ll write more about what I learned from that particular experience in a future post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

In the meantime, I’ll learn all that I can from reading one of the masters of the short story form, and fellow New Englander, John Cheev[ah].


The Daily Write! and also…Following Your Instincts as a Writer

30 Jul

Write every day.

So I have two topics to share today in the form of a quick, short post. The first is that I’ve decided to commit to writing by spending at least one hour of every day writing fiction, what I’m calling “The Daily Write!” I know that sounds corporate and dumb, but giving my goals a title somehow makes it more official. I’m going to self-motivate, I’m going to commit. If Joshua Ferris can write up to 14 hours a day, then I can write for at least one hour. I’m starting today.

The second is this rather excellent blog post from writer and 2012 Squaw Valley faculty member Gregory Spatz. A few things that I appreciated about this blog post were that Spatz was stubborn enough to send a short story to 53 different literary magazines and journals before it was finally published, and he didn’t make any revisions to the story, despite personal rejections from various editors with very different suggestions as to how he could improve the piece. I like to think of that as following your instincts as a writer; it’s something that’s important to remember, both in a workshop setting and when you do finally send your work out for publication.

Spatz has that arrogance I mentioned in an earlier post, and I do think it’s important to have that as a writer. You have to believe in yourself in an almost haughty way to withstand the dozens and dozens (hundreds?) of rejections and putdowns you’ll receive over the course of a career. Spatz says the following about being a writer:

“I had the mistaken idea that from here on my work would only get better, faster and easier.  I didn’t understand yet how good and bad stories have an ongoing, back-and-forth symbiosis in a writer’s life; you don’t get one without the other.  Good work grows out of bad work, and vice versa.   In most ways, I didn’t have the bigger picture–a necessary blindness probably, otherwise I might not have cleaved so tenaciously to the other really important thing I was beginning to understand:  that through it all, whatever happens, you have to plug on.  Persist.”

Persist. Even when the rejections are piling up, even when it seems like the work you’re doing isn’t good enough.

Tracy Staedter

Science writing, editing and workshops


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