Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alistair MacLeod discusses the art of writing slow

Alistair MacLeod came to Thunder Bay to the Sleeping Giant Writers' Festival at the Prince Arthur Hotel. His workshop on writing short fiction was a gentle meditation on how to unfold a plot.  I immediately fell in love with him. In a country of great short story writers he was one of the best. He died this week at 75.  Such a loss. 

Alistair MacLeod discusses the art of writing slow

Alistair MacLeod's literary career is proof that it's quality, not quantity, that truly matters. The celebrated author has published sparingly since his first book, the short story collection The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, came out in 1976. But he has no shortage of accolades: his short stories are internationally renowned, and his only novel, No Great Mischief, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2001, and was shortlisted for all of Canada's major literary awards.

But in an age of instant gratification, when music artists are recording new albums while on tour for their previous one, and authors are writing the second book while touring for their first, MacLeod's approach to writing seems very old-fashioned. But the 75-year-old author doesn't mind.
Why? He believes in Raymond Carver's sentiment that "it's the writer's job to bring the news" and that, as a writer, it's his responsibility to get the details exactly right. Not only does he have to bring a sense of time and place to his work, it needs to be historically and culturally accurate.
"We're all kind of the same, people in Cape Breton and people in Tanzania, but the specifics of their lives are quite different," MacLeod explained to Information Morning host Steve Sutherland. "This is the way art begins and this is the way art endures."
MacLeod sees himself as an artist and doesn't force his writing or rush his words. He also refuses to set deadlines for himself or aspire to finish a story to appease anyone else. McLeod knows a story is done only "when [he] can't make it any better."
MacLeod does have one trick, however, that guides him to the end. When he is halfway through a piece, whether it is a novel or a short story, he writes the final sentence down. "I think of that as the last thing I'm going to say to the reader," he explained. "I write it down and it serves as a lighthouse on the rest of my journey through the story."
Fans around the world have to agree: whatever MacLeod's process, it's working.

1 comment:

  1. I heard him at the Humber summer school of writing. Inspiring to say the least.