Chekhov and writing

Over at The Millions, Sonya Chung has written a great article, “I Heart Chekhov; Better Than Booze or Smokes,” about the way a writer’s good character (Chekhov’s gentle, unblinking eye for the good and bad in the world) may translate to the printed page. She writes that she reads Chekhov in order to “deepen my capacity to see and feel more honestly.” The ability to represent the world in as honest a light as possible has something to do with the person signifying the world. The writer has to present their own version of reality. To do that, the writer has to, sort of, be like Chekhov. That is, the writer has to look at the world and try to honestly show the world as they see it. John Gardner, Chung writes, sees things the other way in The Art of Fiction. Bad writing, to him, arises out of bad character, out of the necessity to impose one’s self onto a story. I agree with Sonya. It is perhaps only out of the capacity to really look at the world, to see and examine all that is around as honestly and clearly as possible, that the writer can accurately portray reality.

No matter what I write, I feel like I have to get rid of the nonsense, the crap that does not seem true, for the piece to work. That is commonsense, I suppose, but it is pretty damn difficult to accomplish. To accurately present a version of reality, a writer must be really adept at listening and paying attention, at actually caring. I tell my students that they have to read as much as possible on a subject before they can charitably discuss it without sounding like Sarah Palin going on and on about something she knows nothing about. Chekhov, like any great writer, comes off as knowing something important about the world and the human condition, a trait that arises out of mindful and careful attentiveness to the landscape.

Rejection notice: Front Porch, but send more work. Getting there, just need to delve a bit deeper.

Reading: Harper’s Magazine (June 2010): Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, has a great article, “How Homeless Soccer Explains the World,” in which he talks about, well, homeless soccer…and other stuff.


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