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Brandi_R
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Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

In the Introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut gives this nugget of advice to writers: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” He references Dr. Edmund Bergler’s The Writer and Psychoanalysis which finds this is a natural human tendency, and that writers are doing this whether they’re aware of it or not. Vonnegut himself knew just who he was writing for: his sister Allie. He wrote, “Anything I knew Allie wouldn’t like I crossed out. Everything I knew she would get a kick out of I left in. . . Allie was funny in real life. That gives me permission to be funny, too.”

Why is this a good practice? Vonnegut’s opinion is that such a story makes the reader feel, even without knowing it, “as though he or she is eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation between two people.” And that the reader can sense, without knowing it “that the story has boundaries like a playing field. That the story can’t go simply anywhere.” And this “invites readers to come off the sidelines, to get into the game with the author.”

What do you think about Vonnegut’s idea of writing just for one person? If it sits well with you, who might be the one person you write for and why?
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marcialou
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

I think I write for myself, the reader. I try to make it something I would like to read if I were not the writer. I feel that if I were to write for anyone else I wouldn't be true to myself or writing honestly. I aim for this not to be an indulgance on my part. My intent is to view my work critically and to consider critiques from others, but the writing has to be for me.

Marcia
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Wordlings
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

Well, that's fine advice, but what Kurt may not have considered is that he was writing to his idea of what Allie would like. However well he knew her, she couldn't be in the room with him at all times, and certainly she would unconsciously tailor herself to her brother's sensibilities in many ways...so even that practice is risky. But whatever makes you comfortable!

I like his notion about the interesting conversation, and the bounded game and so forth...but Kurt's at his best when he's flying off in time and space in ways that aren't so bounded. Those were the works that made his career. Granted he stuck to fairly no-nonsense structures underlying it all, but it's really his flights of fancy and not his playing by rules that established him as a writer of importance and granted him the permanent curmudgeon status he enjoyed the rest of his life.
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APenForYourThoughts
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

It's actually somewhat bizarre for me to be reading this, because I have recently started writing a lot more than I have in the past, and the reason I'm doing so is mostly because of one person who gave me very encouraging remarks on some of my writing when I needed them most, because I was beginning to give up on the writing dream out of fear of not being talented enough to come anywhere close to achieving it. It was actually one of my teachers last year, and he had extremely high standards; he wasn't afraid to tell you something was terrible if it was, and he thought that pretty much anything that wasn't classical literature was terrible. If you ever received a compliment from him, it was the most amazing thing in the world, and so you take it to heart. Whenever I write something, I find myself asking what he would think about it; if he wouldn't like it, I typically won't write it. That's in terms of writing style, but in terms of content I also sometimes think about family members or friends when I write, and I might consider what they would enjoy reading. At times I just disregard everyone else and consider only what would make me happy. I agree that when you're writing for a specific person, it's only what you think he or she would like, but that's comforting to me because I tend not to have a great deal of confidence in myself and must console myself with the idea that there is someone out there who would enjoy reading it. I think Vonnegut had the right idea, because I find that my writing takes on a certain tone and exhibits more depth if I'm writing with a specific person's happiness in mind. Trying to make everyone in the world happy is too problematic, because 1)you don't know everyone in the world, and 2)everyone in the world is different. You have to try to guess about what other people would like and try to appeal to too many different personalities, so the writing style becomes impersonal and somewhat detached, I think. If you're writing for one person, it's like you're developing a relationship with something more than the writing itself, and the writing becomes the embodiment of an idea and will be able to resonate with people more, because you are appealing to universal ideas and emotions. It is, as Vonnegut said, like a conversation, because you end up writing to a definitive person rather than just writing at an indefinite someone. I don't know if any of this makes sense, but that's kind of how I see it.
"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." --Kafka
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Andrea11
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

I agree with marcialou. I write for myself. I do hope in the end others will also like my stories, but I write to express my feelings and my points of view. I appreciate constructive criticism on style, ie., lack of character developement, over use of words, poor flow, etc. Not on content. That is for me.
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Buffy
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

I like the advice from Vonnegut because I fear myself a terrible writer. If I always listen to myself, nothing would be written. But now who do I pick? I can't pick someone close to me, they may either be too nice or I end up hating them. Maybe after I post a page of something of mine, one of you writers here could critique me.

This is the second best advice I have heard on writing. The first advice was on how to start writing a book. The person suggested to just write everything down and then go back and edit.
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mae-V
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

Even though I write to satisfy myself, the story is for one person.

I had been attracted to Dungeons and Dragons since it came out but never felt comfortable enough to hang out with the people who played it. Until I met one person, Gib. He is a D&D storyteller and I felt both encouraged and comfortable talking about what I wanted to do: write from D&D. So, it was natural that, when he went off to boot camp, that I would take what interested me and share it with him.

I created two characters, one of whom wrote letters and another who received them. And I wrote the letters.

I kept writing as much to run point for his own desire to turn his D&D stories into novels, as to tell him the rest of the story, to have him be proud of me. It wouldn't work if I didn't write truly to myself since that is what he likes about my work. He will still be the first one to whom the finished piece is dedicated.
#Play tasty!#
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whooshing
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

In high school I was surprised to hear my English teacher ask "Who are you writing for?" And I replied "everyone." I was embarrassed to think that I hadn't considered this basic question. I suppose I was writing for my classmates. Now I write for me, relaying whatever I think is good or interesting. Writing my first novel was fun. I put in everything I thought should be in a novel. Kurt's advice works for me because it restricts the writing to a narrow profile. It also opens things up for me because it means I can write for all kinds of different people. One can't write for everyone. As Lincoln (?) said, you can please some of the people some of the time but you can't please everyone all the time.
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice

Interesting responses! As wooshing points out, it seems like such a basic question. And in some respects it is. But with creative writing this issue can run quite deep, complicating it in the process. I think it’s interesting that several of you mentioned you write for yourself, writing the kind of work that you would like to read. This seems so apt, and a wonderful way to integrate a sense of passion and urgency that can only come with genuine feelings toward the work. Still, there’s this layer of the process that takes others into account—how do we take the emotions and sentiments that we’re experiencing and make it as strong and poignant in another as it is in ourselves? Perhaps we can think of ourselves as both writer and reader, as Marcia implies. That could allow the reader side to look at the work with that more distanced eye, pretending to not know what’s in the actual emotions to see if those are there, in the words on the page.
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 7: Vonnegut's Advice



APenForYourThoughts wrote:
It's actually somewhat bizarre for me to be reading this, because . . .




What serendipity that this question is so relevant to your experience right now. Like Vonnegut, who thought immediately of his sister, you’ve thought of this teacher. It makes me wonder if the person we write for—if, in fact, we do—changes over time or with writing projects, or if the person a writer writes for remains the same over time.
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