Good Fences

Here’s what a 28-year-old writer whose second novel just made the New York Times best-seller list has to say about writing:

The hardest part is getting away from self-consciousness. The easiest part, once I’ve done that, is the writing itself. I spend so much time trying not to get in the way of myself, trying not to question if things are smart, trying not to question if things are funny. It’s like huge crowds of people pushing against a fence, like you see at a soccer match or something. And then the fence is torn down and everyone just runs around on the field and it’s great. That’s sort of what it’s like. There are all these fences in oneself that are restraining you and restraining your natural instincts, and once you can get rid of those it’s very easy.

Well, running around the field is certainly fun when it happens. But without all that pressing against fences, I doubt the joy would be so great, or the writing so good. I am coming, lately, to more of an appreciation of all that I used to think restrained me–New England family traditions and hangups, bouts of depression, crappy knees, sexual taboos–because they seem so central to my life, and my life feels more and more precious the longer it lasts. Which is not to say that I have given up on letting my natural instincts loose to play in the world and in my words. But in my sixth decade, those instincts have smartened up enough to look for a gate to the soccer field, so they can run around on the grass with the fences still standing and fewer fans trampled.

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