From the Writer – Raymond Carver

From the Writer – Raymond Carver

Welcome back, loyal listeners! This week, we take a look at Raymond Carver’s essay “On Writing.” We’ve highlighted some of the points he’s made for us as writers. Some great advice. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did. As always, you may listen and watch below. Show notes are below the YouTube embed. Please don’t forget to like us on YouTube and subscribe to us (and rate us) on iTunes!


  • First Lines Friday winner: Katie Osburn: “You can probably guess that I’m not much of a storyteller.”
  • Pub term of the day: Legacy publisher
  • Raymond Carver
    • One of the most well-respected short-story writers in American History
    • First stories were very sparse, very dark, very subtle.
    • Struggled with alcoholism.
    • Finally overcame his alcohol addiction and broke ties with Lish.
    • Stories became brighter, though still dark at times.
    • Stories became longer after Lish. In Carver’s words, his later stories were “more generous.”
  • On Writing
    • Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.
      • Loved the short form because it hit quickly—something I look for as an editor of TCR.
      • Start mid-conflict, end early.
      • Likely due to Lish’s editing.
      • Because he wrote about “normal” life, the interpersonal conflicts are seldom resolved.
      • Stories serve almost as photographs, as tableaus.
    • “Some writers have a bunch of talent; I don’t know any writers who are without it. But a unique and exact way of looking at things, and finding the right context for expressing that way of looking, that’s something else.”
      • Author’s unique perspective is paramount. If you want to sound different, you must observe in a new way. Voice and style begins with our observation.
      • Finding a context to set the scene for your vision is just as important. What setting, conflict, will best reveal the truth or feeling you’re striving to convey?
    • “Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications.”
      • Our unique perspective becomes the filter for our stories. We paint the world with the colors of our observations.
      • Though our themes and ideas may be similar, if our “world” looks and sounds the same as another, our book will suffer for it.
    • “Too often, ‘experimentation’ is a license to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing. Even worse, a license to try to brutalize or alienate the reader.”
      • Rather than worrying about being “cutting edge,” worry about being good.
      • Experimentation, like tricks, call attention to the author, not the story.
      • If the point of the story is for the author to “show off,” the story can have no other theme.
    • “It’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.”
      • The power of our language can imbue objects with emotional power.
      • The use of emotional language and subtlety can transform an ordinary object into something extraordinary. It avoids hyperbole, and thereby, melodrama.
      • Frame it with circumstances. Simple images and simple words can be overwhelming.
    • “That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say. If the words are heavy with the writer’s own unbridled emotions, or if they are imprecise and inaccurate for some other reason—if the words are in any way blurred—the reader’s eyes will slide right over them and nothing will be achieved.”
    • Perhaps Carver’s greatest attribute was his profound lack of melodrama.
      • He refused to over sensationalize conflict, though his stories were gruesomely dark.
      • The darkness he achieves comes from restraint and precision.
    • “I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories…There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion, or else, most often, there simply won’t be a story.”
      • Conflict is when things go wrong. Cows step on land mines and explode, dirty rags combust in laundry rooms, arsonists sneak away in the dead of night backlit by infernos, sharks with laser beams attached to their heads … you get the idea.
      • Tension is the sense that something terrible might happen. Think suspense. Nothing must go wrong, but the reader must feel as if it might.
  • Next week’s show: From the Writer, for the Writer–F. Scott Fitzgerald

For more, read the whole essay here.

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