• Richard Lutman

CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG WRITER?


With the end of one decade and the approach of a new one, I'm looking back at my last decade of writing, by far, my most successful. Looking further back at my development in the sixties to the nineties I see a very cocky young writer with 5 honorable mentions in Writer's Digest competitions, one-second place in the National Writers club short story contest of 1987 (I don’t remember the story), runner up in the R.I. state council for the Arts, a finalist in 1994. 12 publications and 11 public readings. Plus publications in the three major Providence, RI reviews, The Providence Review, Aldabaran, and Anyart. I had also fallen victim to a POD press and spend 250.00 to have my novel published. All that’s left of this attempt are about four copies. That early disaster became the first draft for “The River.”

When the editor at Aldaran wanted me to follow up on the publication with my thoughts about writing my head just about exploded. I just spouted off a bunch of stuff I really didn’t know about that sounded good. Here is that self-interview. The editor liked it….

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

I would like to be 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 piece 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 where I won the Robert Frost medal. I was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, the ‘Beat’ poets, and Leonard Cohen. 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. My first published piece was in 1972, about three years after I started writing fiction.

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 short 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 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 T.V. 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 Bunel. Bergman, for his use of characters, images, and dialogue, Bunuel for his surrealism, his ability to twist the commonplace into something terrifying like the banquet scene in ‘Viridiana.’

What do I think of that interview today? For someone who was as cocky as I was a lot of what I said, I really do as a writer.

#writing

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