Writing about writing

WritingNotWriting #Mondayblogs #amwriting #amknitting

The title of my post is a riff on the fleetingly popular #SorryNotSorry. I’m writing but not really writing. I mean, I haven’t been writing but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. As usual.

What I have been doing is … knitting.

This purple and gray wrap will soon be wrapped up and sent to a friend who has cooler temperatures this time of year than I do.
This purple and gray wrap will soon be wrapped up and sent to a friend who has cooler temperatures this time of year than I do.


Just finished this cowl in time for a friend's birthday.
Just finished this cowl in time for a friend’s birthday.


The beginnings of a shawl for a relative who lives in a cooler clime than I do.
The beginnings of a shawl for a relative who lives in a cooler clime than I do. And off to the lower left … my foot.

When in doubt, I knit. Not only is knitting a meditative practice, it is also quantifiable. It moves linearly (for the most part anyway). There’s a definite beginning, middle, and end to my knitting. I don’t (often) feel that way about writing.

I have also been studying Spanish, for the nth time since I was in high school. I’ve become a bit obsessive, loading countless learning apps onto my iPhone, logging hours on Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, and downloading videos on learning Spanish from The Great Courses.

And, yet, my fluency leaves something to be desired. Yo tengo tres gatos y un marido.

And, yet … with both knitting and studying Spanish I persevere. I make a knitting error? I just rip it out and start over. I stumble over my grammar in Spanish? I can retake the lessons as often as needed. But writing is different. When I hit a wall in my writing, everything stops and it feels near impossible to get going again.

Quality of writing seems so subjective. I can quantify the number of words I write, but I can’t speak to their quality. With knitting and Spanish, I can see a steady progression of quality as a beautiful pattern takes shape or my review lessons become easier.

The subjective appreciation of writing trips me up every time. And I’ve been working at it as long as I’ve knitting and studying Spanish.

Now, this post will continue on to a rant I wrote almost a year ago. I’m sharing it now because it speaks to my frustration with literary and popular criticism. I had just finished listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and needed to get a few things about the novel off my chest. If you haven’t read The Goldfinch and plan to, you might want to stop here since my rant includes some spoilers. If you have read The Goldfinch and loved it, you might want to stop here because I didn’t. The rest of you may proceed as you wish.


I’m a pretty sensitive individual.  I internalize everything.  Let’s say I wrote a novel titled The Goldfinch and not only was it published, but it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.  Sure, I’d be happy for the publicity and the money and probably both would be enough to keep me in a bubble, safe from the knowledge that most buyers of my novel couldn’t finish it, the awareness that some of those who could were not just disappointed but dismayed by it. All the hype, the publicity, the Pulitzer for a novel that is too long and too uneven and too clever.  Near the end of the novel, one character complains about “relentless tedium.” That pretty much describes the pace of The Goldfinch for me. At another point Theo, the narrator, says to a character, “It’s a long story. I’ll try to keep it short.” I laughed out loud at that line. Was Tartt poking fun at her own book? The novel is full of “relentless” litanies and extended dialogues that sound like something out of soap operas. You know the kind. Where the characters keep talking around each other and asking but not answering the same questions over and over until you want to scream, “Oh, just answer the bloody question!”

Only at the end does the reader learn that Theo has been keeping a journal all this time, since his “childhood”; yet, there’s never a mention of him doing so in the earlier parts. I found that so odd given how much this young man moved from one place to another, never once losing a journal apparently but also never mentioning his journals and what might happen if they fell into the wrong hands.

And The Goldfinch itself? I never really felt Theo’s connection with the painting that he claimed to have. Too often it seemed as if he had actually forgotten about it.  He’d have all kinds of adventures with his Ukrainian friend Boris, never once mentioning the painting. Then, suddenly, briefly, he’d describe how he thought about it all the time. And oddly, those descriptions always seemed to occur about the same time I had almost forgotten about the painting myself. Did Tartt have to remind herself that the painting was supposed to be pivotal to the story?

At one point, the reader gets the idea that Theo and Boris might be in love with each other, not an unimportant realization for two teen-aged boys. Yet, the idea goes nowhere. Theo has no problem taking up with women when he returns to NYC and eventually he forgets Boris until they have their odd reunion.

The pace picks up when Boris admits that he stole the painting which has now been stolen from him and he needs Theo to help get it back. But the plot is convoluted and the miracle of it progressing at all is simply because Theo has access to money. I know it’s a given in some genres, like romance novels, where the reader wants to escape into a world where money is not a problem, only love and lust. But this is literary fiction (I think).  Maybe I’m being a “reversed snob” but it’s a pet peeve of mine when a character who heretofore has been nearly destitute comes into a large inheritance and suddenly, money is no longer a problem. He can hop a jet to anywhere, stay in a luxury hotel for days on end, and never worry about the bill.  Boring.

And that’s another thing: Theo seems to suffer illnesses that go on for days, yet he doesn’t die. Somehow he always comes through, but these “relentless” illnesses were part of what pushed me to lose patience with the character. He is unsympathetic, perhaps even a sociopath, incapable of understanding anyone’s feelings but his own.  Often, there didn’t seem to be any there there with Theo.

Now, I actually listened to an audio version of The Goldfinch and I think that’s one reason why I stuck with it. The narrator was quite good and his rendition of Boris was wonderful. And I was listening as a writer, trying to hear how the story ebbed and flowed. I did enjoy many of the other characters, but overall the novel sounded to me as one in a series of drafts, not the first, crude draft but not the final, polished draft either. There was so much that could have been edited out of the novel without doing a whit of harm and, more importantly, doing it much good. Theo’s journal writing would have been a nice thread to have had throughout the novel.

There was a surreal aspect to the novel, which made me cast about for comparisons. Dickens did not come to mind as anything more than Tartt “borrowing” some of Dickens’s characterizations. What I kept thinking about was Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In both novels, two naïve young men go astray, one is spurred by his desire to be among the better classes, the other by survivor’s guilt and his desire to numb it. Both commit crimes without seeming to have the full sense of their consequences, and both seem naïve to the point of being led about by the “wrong” people. But whereas I was struck by the timeless quality of An American Tragedy, with The Goldfinch I was only struck by how long it took me to suffer through it.  Oh, and that it got an effing Pulitzer.

31 thoughts on “WritingNotWriting #Mondayblogs #amwriting #amknitting

  1. Wow, what beautiful things you’ve been knitting. I am so jealous of your talent. (Also love that you captured your foot in the one photo, lol.) I feel about running the way you feel about knitting, that there is a definite beginning, middle and ending, plus there is also a more immediate pay-off: I run, I get faster or I get stronger and am thus able to run longer distances, etc. But just because I write doesn’t necessarily mean that my writing is going the distance. Most of the time, it isn’t.
    I love this line: “When I hit a wall in my writing, everything stops and it feels near impossible to get going again.”
    That is so true. Why is that so true? Why do we make it true? Do we care too much? See too much of ourselves inside our own writing? Worry too much about those critical voices inside our heads?
    Like you “Goldfinch” review. I’ve pretty much given up on reading critically acclaimed literary novels. Most of them I simply don’t get or can’t get through or feel as if the author is trying to be too clever or too smart or too literary or too New Yorkish, etc. Sometimes I wonder: How in the hell did this ever get published? And then I think: It really stinks that this was published.
    Anyway, I shall shut up now and leave you to go back to your wonderful knitting, and your Spanish.
    Have a great week.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I love this line of yours: “just because I write doesn’t necessarily mean that my writing is going the distance.” That actually makes me feel better. Not so much that we share the same anxieties about our writing (although that helps), but it reminds me that we do tend to have higher expectations of our writing than we do other activities. With knitting, I may be providing the technical skill, but someone else provided the pattern and the yarn, not me. With writing, I have to provide it all and that makes it harder. You have a good week, too, Cinthia. We’ll see how I fare … I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo again 😉


  2. Wow! I’m so impressed with your knitting, Marie. The colors you went with are gorgeous! For someone who can hardly sew a button…you’re my hero! I think you should start your own National Knitting Month. Thanks for you honest “rant!”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’ve been on the fence about the Goldfinch, and seeing how we appear to have some tendencies in common as readers, I think I may now shelve the idea of wanting to read it. There are plenty of books in the sea after all…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Indeed, there are plenty of other books worth your time and effort. A friend had recommended the audio version of The Goldfinch, and I’m glad I listened to it if only to remind myself of why I tend to avoid books that are overly hyped 😉


  4. Definitely not one of my favs, either. I found it rambling at times. But I guess I’m a casualty of the rapidity of life. I want things to move along quickly when I read. It’s a rare book I enjoy that doesn’t have much happen in it. When I do enjoy such a book, it’s because the writing is so beautifully descriptive, I stay interested, or because I was learning a bunch in the process.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t mind a slow-paced plot, but, still, I want the writing to be such that I don’t notice the plot is slow. For me, a page-turner for doesn’t always mean there’s a lot of action. Sometimes spending time in the head of a character can be as riveting as a suspenseful chase scene. Especially if that character is a serial killer … heh heh 😉


    1. Thank you, Luanne! Oh, if you do read The Goldfinch, please let me know what you think of it. I know I hold authors such as Donna Tartt to a higher standard and that definitely colors my view of their books.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t read that part of your post, but I’ve read other things and I am not sure I will make that commitment. I don’t want to say for sure that I won’t read it, but not sure it’s worth my time. I could probably read three books in that time LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Maybe too long for me. The only long book I’ve read lately was Adrienne Morris’ book that I reviewed months ago and loved, but I don’t make a habit of such long ones.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I’ve read some long novels … well, long for me: The Living by Annie Dillard which I really enjoyed and Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver which I mostly enjoyed. But generally I shy away from long novels. Audiobooks are another thing, though. Maybe because I listen while walking or knitting or cooking, I like my audiobooks to be long.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Haven’t read the Goldfinch, but thank you for ensuring I don’t add yet another book to my TBR pile…

    It’s funny, I’ve been doing the Spanish thing as well. I’m getting OK with it, but I think there’s only so much one can retain without being immersed in the language every day. Best of luck on the writing, Marie. We’re kindred souls there. It’s a struggle!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hey, Phillip! Yes, writing is such a struggle. Learning Spanish is a piece of cake compared to writing 😉 I agree, it is hard to retain what I’ve learned without immersion. That’s one reason why I’m using so many tools. The major tools–Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Great Courses–all offer a different teaching angle. Rosetta Stone is more like immersion but I only recently bought the series (at a steep discount, mind you) so I can’t say whether it’s helping. Still, as long as I’m having fun 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You have three cats and a husband! No tengo tres gatos o un marido.
    Glad to see you back on the blog. Love the things you’ve knitted. So beautiful and colorful. I’ve been crocheting odd things like beakers. These are for a kid’s birthday party.

    I started The Goldfinch awhile ago, but didn’t finish it. It was not my cup of tea.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I thought you might have crocheted that beaker. Crochet will always be a challenge for me. I keep wanting to pick it up again. Goodness knows, I’ve got enough crochet patterns 😉


  7. I’ve thought about knitting as a way to get my mind back on my novel when I’m stuck. I used to work in a wool shop – I knitted then at least 8 hours a day between the job and doing it for fun at home. It’s been years.
    I didn’t keep reading since I haven’t read the novel. I may, one day.
    Thanks for the suggestion (to knit), Marie. 😀 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, I think I’d love to work in a wool shop! And, yes, knitting sometimes helps me with my writing as well. The meditative part of it allows my mind to wander and sort things out. The challenge is putting down my knitting long enough to pick up my writing 😉


  8. I love that I have found such similarities in a perfect stranger. I have also been knitting to fill the writing void. Along with brushing up on my rusty Spanish skills, which I minored in.

    Your knitting is lovely, by the by.

    Liked by 3 people

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