Sunday, June 17, 2007

Charles Johnson on Serious Writing

Charles Johnson, most famously the author of the National Book Award-winning Middle Passage, has this to say about what constitutes serious writing:

I think a real writer has to think in other terms. Not, "Will I get into this magazine? Will I get this NEA next year?" but whether or not this work is something he would do if a gun was held to his head and somebody was going to pull the trigger as soon as the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page was finished. Now if you can write out of the sense that you're going to die as soon as this work is done, then you will write with urgency, honesty, courage and without flinching at all, as if this were the last testament in language, the last utterance, you could ever make to anybody. If a work is written like that, then I want to read it. If somebody's writing out of that sense, then I'll say, "This is serious. This person's not fooling around. The work is not a means to some other end, the work is not just intended for some silly superficial goal, this work is the writer saying something because he or she feels that if it isn't said, it will never be said."

From At the Field's End: Interviews With 22 Pacific Northwest Writers,by Nicholas O'Connell, p. 262.

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