Friday, November 16, 2018

Writing inspiration from Jonathan Franzen

Figure 1. Jonathan Franzen on Lithub.
It's time to check in with our bird-lovin', Oprah-scornin', Edith Wharton-hatin' friend Jonathan Franzen again.

Franzen published 10 rules for writing on Lithub, and Twitter has been having, um, a little fun with them.

The rules themselves are not that bad. They're pretty sententious, like Franzen's fiction, and pretty humorless (ditto).  Here's one of them:

"It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction."

A couple of thoughts: 

1. "his workplace." Should we let it go? 
2. So Joyce Carol Oates isn't writing good fiction? 

I have a feeling that this is actually a burn against unseen adversaries, designed to make them feel, as the young folk say on Twitter, "seen." 

At least it's a list and not an endless paragraph in 6 volumes, and at least he isn't telling you to get rid of your dog if you want to be a great writer.  

The Guardian collected the responses to his list, and some of them are pretty funny. Not to be outdone, Lithub published a collection right after they published the list from Our Boy.

But how different are these, really, from the lists that we all make from time to time or that wend their way around Twitter? 

Does he deserve this level of mockery, or is it because he takes himself so seriously?

I'm not holding any brief for Jonathan Franzen. (I have read Jonathan Franzen.) But we put up with Captain Obvious statements all the time, including a fair number in obscurantist language from literary theorists, and all we say is, "Yes, emperor, those clothes are stunning." 

My guess is that hating Jonathan Franzen is like a meme, and maybe like some others, he'd rather be hated and talked about if he has books (or a political persuasion) to sell than to be ignored. 

And he's not on Twitter. He's . . . writing. So even if his advice isn't inspiring, I stick by my guns that his example is.