Flannery O’Connor was the first great writer to be educated in an MFA program. I learned this Wednesday night in my literature seminar (I passed in that 10 page paper, by the way. It ended up being 12). She studied at Iowa under the instruction of Paul Engle. In the introduction to The Complete Stories, it is noted that Engle, at their first meeting, was unable to understand a word of Flannery’s “native Georgian tongue.” He said, “Embarrassed, I asked her to write down what she had just said on a pad.” Flannery felt that journalism school was not right for her; she wanted to be in the writing program. Engle recalled, “… [Flannery’s]stories were quietly filled with insight, shrewd about human weakness, hard and compassionate…”
A student once asked Flannery why she wrote. “Because I am good at it,” she responded.
Here are 5 Flannery O’Connor quotes on writing:
1. The first and most obvious characteristic of fiction is that it deals with reality through what can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched.
2. The peculiar problem of the short-story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible. He has only a short space to do it in and he can’t do it by statement. He has to do it by showing, not by saying, and by showing the concrete….”
3. Fiction writers who are not concerned with these concrete details are guilty of what Henry James called “weak specification.” The eyes will glide over their words while the attention goes to sleep. Ford Madox Ford taught that you can’t have a man appear long enough to sell a newspaper in a story unless you put him there with enough detail to make the reader see him.
4. It’s always wrong of course to say that you can’t do this or you can’t do that in fiction. You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.
5. If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than it can ever be to his reader.
All excerpts are taken from Mystery and Manners.
Have a good weekend, everyone!
“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.”