Carol Bly Quotes

Just a short while before her death, my friend Mark Rapacz took a writing class with the imperious Carol Bly at Hamline University. He's sent me five pages of quotes from her, some regarding his work, some not, and volunteered them for posting on this blog. I've sifted through them for the following gems, and I think you can see she was definitely from the tough writing love school of writing instruction. Thanks for sending this along, Mark!

"I'd speed up the whole story. Especially as it hasn't a happy ending -- everyone goes on being stuck as the kind of people at the end that they were at the beginning and they go on doing the kinds of things they do -- that's all right. It is a stupid cliche to say that characters must "grow". They don't always and they needn't. But make it sprucer."

"You need practice keeping your writing stuck together properly. You need practice in analytical thinking about other people so that you can use it to write American Literature....The exercise is in thinking, not in eleganzo writing."

"Please do the in-class writing assignment over again...Here is why: You need to think as hard as you can about everything. Think. When you think you do quite well. But sometimes you don't really bother, Mark. For the rest of this course would you please do slave labor and think, philosophically, psychologically, logically, as well as you can. Do intelligent guesswork about what's going on inside other people. Best luck. E-mail if you get stuck with anything."

"Can you tell yourself, 'listen, all my life I will have to do things on-task, making sure I don't sound very far off norm or I will be fired, etc. --but here I am, perhaps for the last time in my life, who knows, being asked to invent, invent story --to try plots and intense setting and favorite old feelings of mine.' Keep reminding yourself. My feeling is you can do better."

"Life may be partly a chilled garbage can but art does not imitate life: it observes it. Observing is much different from soaking oneself in a culture. Seeing a puppy mistake does not mean artists must march their bare feet into it."

“Remember to lie some. A fiction-writer’s lies are evidence of inner truth.”

“The New Yorker is dishonest because anyone with that much money around them must be dishonest.”

“I will help you use more vocabulary…Shakespeare invented 3,000 words, but he was smarter than me.”

“It’s hard to be a writer when you think things can’t be thought about.”

“The short story should be complete. The heart should not want more at the end of a story.”

“If a writer’s group is very strong and supportive it may be time to leave.”

“That’s human beings for you – they get a beautiful place then they kill a few people or rape a mouse.”

“The more pain you can feel the better your short story will be and if you can forgive the universe for its problems then it will be even better.”

[Referring to the dwindling readership in America] “It won’t always be like this. There have been Dark Ages before.”

“Bed and Breakfasts are run by women trying to escape something.”

“Most deadly serious people are the most humorous.”

“We’ll choose what we know even if it hurts us, and we’ll stay away from what we don’t know because it’s lonely and unfamiliar.”

“Write sincerely from inside and you’ll be writing….[she never finished her though, but it seemed she meant to]”


T.A. Wardrope said...

That's a good list. Most of my feedback was hardly as entertaining. I think her admonishment to think is interesting as she was so excited by how neuroscience can help writing. She had a very intellectual approach.

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