james-salter-smile-1993-ph-jill-krementz

Until today I’d never heard of James Salter. He’s an American Novelist – the kind of novelist whose prose will stop you in your tracks. His writing is succinct and reminiscent of Hemingway. For those of you who know me and my love of 20th Century American Literature, you’ll know that I don’t make such comparisons lightly.

Salter is a careful writer. Writing his manuscripts first by hand, then typing and retyping. He says, “I’m a frotteur, someone who likes to rub words in his hand, to turn them around and feel them, to wonder if that really is the best word possible.”

But what caught me are his thoughts on Fiction. Salter doesn’t believe that Fiction is imaginary. Sure, some things might be made up – but for him good writing is about capturing the true story (even if it’s embellished, deconstructed, or disordered). One of the reasons I’ve never written Fiction is because every time I try – all I can write is the truth. No matter how much I try to mask or alter my characters – they are always some version of me or those closest to me. I’ve only ever been able to write what I know.

And then Salter says something that startles me – he says, “There comes a time in life when you realize that everything is a Dream. Only those things that have been written down have any possibility of being real. That’s all that exists in the end. What’s been written down”

Sometimes when I’m reading back through old posts in my archive, I experience that very thing. I find myself remembering both the truth of the moment and the dreams I’ve written down – the dreams that are really just mirrored reflections of the truth. And the dreams are always more real to me – even if the picture I’ve painted of those moments is slightly generous or in-genuine or overly hopeful. And of all the moments, all the memories in my life, the ones that are most real to me are the ones I took the time to write down. Whether I am completely accurate or deliberately charitable in my re-telling – they are (and forever will be) my truth.



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