22 Comments

Thank you so much for this! I'm going to save it to reread whenever I get discouraged. I'm a writer who works a full-time "day job", but writing is my true love. I've been published in various obscure places and have won a few short story and flash fiction contests. Sometimes I wonder why I bother, why it means so much to me, to scramble for the time to write and to read. You will never know how much your words have meant to so many.

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Mar 17, 2023Liked by Joyce Carol Oates

I was depressed after reading the long piece in 'The New Yorker' on the slow death of English and humanities departments in general. I read this essay and immediately came out of my funk!

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I’m so glad I found your newsletter. ❤️

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Thank you for this. When the soul is wearing thin, writing can be a resplendent refuge.

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I just may frame this. (At least it will go on the fridge until I can find a frame that's worthy). Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and inspiration, Ms. Oates.

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lovely thoughts, encouraged me to write what is true to me and what I want to discover

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As a fledgling writer...how beautiful and terrifying and comforting (!) to read this...thanks so much!

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"My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish."

I so agree with that. However, it seems to me that a lot of people write for the audience and are afraid to hurt the reader's feelings. They feel they have to have sensitivity readers because they may provoke their readers into seeing what the world was like...before. Editors don't want to publish stories that will offend or make people think for themselves. But at least there is SUBSTACK. A lot of my stories are long, but a lot of them deal with themes people don't want to face. People will find me eventually. Maybe when they figure out that I don't write to be PC, and certainly not "Woke". If you're going to write about the Civil Rights in the 50's-60s, how can you be PC? Anything else would be a lie.

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"Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind." This sentence will stay with me for decades. :) Thank you for this beautiful, encouraging piece.

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Hey Joyce! We are discussing "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" in class right now. The entire class picked this story as our favorite.. It's fantastic, however, we all would LOVE to know what really happens at the end! Can you fill me in!?

Love you,

John

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"Writing is a consequence of being “haunted” by material. You know that you are “haunted” when nothing else can retain your attention—when your thoughts swerve, in obedience to an inner gravity, to the one true subject that will bring terror and comfort."

Yes!

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Love your newsletter. I'm a horrible writer but love to read your writings. Thank you JCO.

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'Revising is the blissful state subsequent to the circle of Hell that is the “first draft.”'

Interesting. I find the opposite to be true: The first draft is a freeing mess of thoughts, mistakes & many errors. There's joy in the chaos. The first revision is a slog through the mud, but somewhere around rewrite #5 or #6, a certain clarity of purpose appears.

the most arresting is reading what you've written and being surprised by a pleasing idea of a turn of phrase, though (sadly) I find this a very rare happenstance.

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I absolutely loved this quote I pasted below and I related to this entire post so much. Thank you for sharing this writing advice. I feel as though writing is the only way to reach my own truths, to truly hear my inner voice. "To be entranced, to be driven, to be obsessed, to be under the spell of an emerging, not quite fully “comprehended” narrative—this is the greatest happiness of the writer's life even as it burns us out and exhausts us, unfitting us for the placid contours of “normality.”

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Thank you for your generosity.

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