Saul Bellow, among other things on the way to something else, says this about his writing

“From a different standpoint, American readers sometimes object to a kind of foreignness in my books. I mention Old World writers, I have highbrow airs, and appear to put on the dog. I readily concede that here and there I am probably hard to read, and I am likely to become harder as the illiteracy of the public increases. It is never an easy task to take the mental measure of your readers. There are things that people should know if they are to read books at all, and out of respect for them, or to save appearances, one is apt to assume more familiarity on their part with the history of the twentieth century than is objectively justified. Besides, a certain psychic unity is always taken for granted by writers. “Others are in essence like me and I am basically like them, give or take a few minor differences.” A piece of writing is an offering. You bring it to the altar and hope it will be accepted. You pray at least that rejection will not throw you into a rage and turn you into a Cain. Perhaps naively, you produce your favorite treasures and pile them in an indiscriminate heap. Those who do not recognize their value now may do so later. And you do not always feel that you are writing for any of your contemporaries. It may well be that your true readers are not here as yet and that your books will cause them to materialize.”

–Saul Bellow, ‘Foreword’ to Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), p. 15.

Stephen King on writing spaces

“[your writing space] can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

–Stephen King, On Writing, p. 155.

“I’ll be as brief as possible…

…because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don’t spend actually doing it.

“There is a muse,* but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creativity fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he’s on duty), but he’s got the inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.

Believe me, I know.

*Traditionally, the muses were women, but mine’s a guy; I’m afraid we’ll just ave to live with it.”

–Stephen King, On Writing, p. 144-145.

Summary review of Robert McKenzie, A Little Book for New Historians.

Steve Wolfgang posted a quote to his Facebook wall from Robert Tracy McKenzie, A Little Book for New Historians (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019). I do not remember the quote (there are many good quotable snippets throughout the book). Whatever it was, it prompted me to acquire it. As a historian born out of season, I welcome every opportunity to learn the lay of the land for this craft. McKenzie helped me gain a conceptual framework by clarifying terms and usages and by pinpointing some areas of theory and practice I might want to pursue. That he does it in a way that is not intimidating is a significant plus. I suspect this book grew from the overflow of course lectures; if so Dr. McKenzie must be a skilled pedagogue.

I underscore born out of season. To address this, I am reading much these days about historiography and a habit I am forming, more and more so in earnest, is to summarize and reflect in longhand on paper about my reading. I have always been a note-taker and -gatherer. I have always drafted sermons by hand, and sometimes also typed. I always teach from hand-drafted notes; when I need to get a data point correct, there it is. And if I lose my place I can recover usually without anyone noticing. Superficialities aside, I have resumed long-hand drafting of research projects and now I am doing the same for deep reading. The conviction I have become rather settled in is that the act of writing in cursive, in longhand, with pencil on paper (preferably unlined) facilitates deeper comprehension of concepts, vocabulary. I think it also helps me understand sequence and pacing of argumentation. I have not combed the research in several years, but it seemed fairly well-established that hearing, speaking, and writing your notes combined for a sensible triumvirate that really boosted comprehension and retention. You might try it; it seems to work for me. Your mileage may vary. But enough of this.

I will summarize McKenzie’s little book in a series of posts, one per chapter. Nine chapters, plus appendix.

“Critics and scholars…

…have always been suspicious of popular success. Often their suspicions are justified. In other cases, these suspicions are used as an excuse not to think. No one can be as intellectually slothful as a really smart person; give smart people half a chance and they will ship their oars and drift…dozing to Byzantium, you might say.”

–Stephen King, On Writing, p. 143.