• Richard Lutman

Confessions of a Very Young Writer


I moved to Rhode Island in the early seventies and had pieces published in each of the three Providence literary journals. A poem in “Aldabaran,” a short story in “The Providence Review,” and a flash fiction piece in “Anyart.” The short story and flash fiction pieces were my first fiction publications. “Anyart” wanted me to follow up the publication with my thoughts about writing. By this time I was rather full of myself—the piece about my writing the icing on the cake. I just spouted off a bunch of stuff I really didn’t know about that sounded good, but as I look back on this piece I’m amazed at how much of this I still believe in.

I want people to see what I can see and to hear what I hear—to go through the same discovery process that I do. You must learn to look at everything for the first time.

I would like to be a 1000--there is still so much I have left to do. I can't think of not being able to write. I don't want to self-destruct at an early age, it’s not necessary.

Writing can't be taught, it must be learned like any other craft. A writer must decide what his interests and tastes are, then working within that framework he must know what is good writing and what is bad, or what works and what doesn't. It’s a filtering process that simply comes from writing as much as possible and taking a writing course or two. After a while the writer will know through experience how to focus on what he does.

You must also know that you can do little else except write. Then you must be prepared to dedicate your mind and body to learning how to write better than anyone else.

A writer lives in a symbiotic relationship with what goes on around him. He needs these relationships for his ideas. I don't think a writer can survive without these relationships. He must be very objective toward his work and try not to become personally involved with it.

THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT WRITING. A lot of my discipline and energy to write depends on whether or not I like the particular I am working on. Some stories that I write are tough to handle and end up in my file for later use.

Writing is essentially rewriting. One story took me five years to finish, another I rewrote three dozen times.

I guess I started out like many by writing poetry in college. I was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and the "Beat" poets. Most of what I wrote was rotten, but it taught me how to think ideas through creatively. I didn't begin to write fiction until much later when I came upon an idea that wouldn't work as a prose poem. The prose of my first piece was heavy, the characters very stereotyped and the dialogue bad. But I had written my first fiction piece. From there I wrote a lot of junk, some of which I saved and worked on.

When I was an editorial assistant in NYC, I spent a lot of time reading the manuscripts that came in. I was appalled at the vast amount of really horrible writing. Most of the novels were badly conceived and boring. There were hundreds of stereotyped characters who used hackneyed language in dull settings. There also seemed to be a basic misunderstanding of how to use language properly, to make it exciting. It seemed as if most of the authors didn't care what they said (although I'm sure they thought differently).

I think the most perfect story I have ever read was Chekhov’s "Lady With a Dog."

My writing is dense, which is much the way I see both my characters and settings. I write stories concerned with death and disillusionment because I find them more interesting to write about than something which might be lighthearted. As a rule I don't like happy endings and I have found that I always try to look at things from a different viewpoint.

I try to get at least some truth or personal experience into everything I write. This gives me the necessary foundation for a story. I get immense pleasure out of building my own world of fiction and solving the problems in it. I'm not afraid to carve up my work. I'm not afraid to try any idea.

Because of my passion for the language, I think a good story should be read aloud. I was at a writer's conference in Washington, D.C. on the teaching of writing in schools and colleges. The only thing that stood out was the night Scott Momaday read his work. It was a high point. I write to be read aloud.

I'm fascinated by all kinds of people. Some of them inevitably find their way into my stories. I talk to as many people as I can, talk to them about anything. I'm also attracted to TV characters. They are drawn quickly. When someone is a bad guy, you know it. I have many more characters than I could ever use.

Nature is the great overseer. Its colors, smells, sounds can't be ignored. It is for our senses. I like to use nature as an important force in what I write. I like to place my characters in front of nature and let them play their scenes out. In such a setting communication between people becomes very important.

Authors I reread; Durrell, Grubb, Momaday, Lawrence, Lorca. Also much influenced by the films of Berman and Bunuel,. Bergman for his use characters, images and dialogue, Bunuel for his surrealism, his ability to twist the commonplace into something terrifying.

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