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Courage at Work

A phrase jumped out at me from a review in an old New Yorker.   I was reading James Wood's piece on The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.  She is an unusual writer, as you may know.   At least one of her stories is two sentences long.    Understatement and deadpan wit are her metier.  And she can be quite grim.  "…What is omitted or suppressed becomes highly charged," Wood writes, "and the hunger strike of the spare, lucid words on the page can take on a desperate aspect."

The words in the review that seized my attention and have stuck with me are a description of her work as "distinct and crookedly personal."  The magazine lies before me with only that phrase highlighted.

While there's no value in straining to be different, there's much to be gained by allowing one's work to emerge in all its peculiar crookedness.  In saying this, I don't at all argue against craft and revision and making the writing accessible to readers or even in cocking an eye toward market preferences. In fact, three of those are necessary.   The bold move is to stay with whatever is at the heart of one's work — of any sort — and use the revising to enhance that.    

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