How long does it take a serious writer to learn brevity? Mastery of form? The ability to produce a deep aesthetic enjoyment?
This is an interesting question — like the others, indeed, but not as answerable as they. I think one strives to generate meaning as energy; it’s like a demonstration in classical mechanics in physics: we say we are “moved” by a story, for example. So if there is a quantum of meaning expressible in 20 words and you express it in 10, you’ve doubled the power of the sentence. (This quantification is very crude, of course, and doesn’t do justice to the beautiful complexity of a good sentence).
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You once said, “most stories fail through under-invention.” Under-invention of what? Isn’t there a role for cliches and general banality in good writing? Do you ever worry about making your style too dense or inventive?
I think most feckless writing, like most superficial thinking generally, bops along the surface of the dense and subtle realities that make life real and interesting. Most writing is too vague and abstract — which is to say, it’s under-invented; it doesn’t dig down to the blood and meat. Do I worry about making my style too dense or inventive? Not really — if the world doesn’t like it, the world can just go fish. (Such an Olympian stance is, of course, only part of the truth.) But in my darker, less charitable moments, I wonder if much of it will not be lost on the editors who read my stuff, not to mention the readers. Is this snobbery? Of course it is; on the other hand . . .