Friday, November 17, 2006

In praise of the small

It's national novel writing month, which I suppose is a good thing.

Still, for every Charles Dickens, there's at least one Bulwer-Lytton, likely many more. I may be one of the few people to actually read Bulwer-Lytton, who is most famous for being the namesake of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Unless you win the contest, being associated with Bulwer-Lytton is really not desireable.

Jane Austen was a master of minimalism, especially compared to her peers. Pamela by Samual Richardson? Yikes!

In other words, less can be more. Quality not quantity.

There's this idea that in the heirarchy of writing, novels are somehow the pinnacle. Bailey White is a sheer genius, and hearing her read her own work is one of my life's greatest pleasures. Still, she lost me when she switched over to novel writing. Her taut gems of essays became flaccid novels.

Some of the best writers never write novels. David Sedaris. Raymond Carver. Dorothy Parker. Guy de Maupassant. Katherine Mansfield. Ambrose Bierce. O. Henry. Edgar Allen Poe. As far as I know, not a novelist among them.

My developmental writing students spend all semester working on the well-crafted paragraph. It's a skill that does not come naturally to them, and it's a skill worth honing.

As you write this month, think of the taut haiku, the well-crafted magazine profile, the tasty essay or short story. Take pleasure in the small.

As you knit, don't feel guilty for the lace shawl that isn't knitted, the intricate aran sweater, the sampler afghan, the fair isle, the entrelac. Knit a Dr. Who scarf if you must, but know that the Koigu neck cozy is perfection as well.

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