Not a Love Seat: Bret Lott on Writing from Your Own Chair
September 22, 2011 § 2 Comments
One of our favorite Brevity authors over the years (and, for that matter, one of our favorite authors in general), Bret Lott, was interviewed by Fiction Writers Review recently. His chair analogy addresses fiction writers, but those of us who write and teach nonfiction would do well to listen. Lott reminds us (and our students) that the writer’s distinct self and experience, not mimicry, is what drives voice, persona, point-of-view, and what makes the writing worth our time:
This idea—writing from your own chair—comes from my being sometimes a little too exasperated with students who want to be Writers but who don’t yet understand that they already have something To Write. I was in class one day and simply trying to explain yet again that, as Flannery O’Connor wrote, anyone who has lived through his childhood has enough material to last the rest of his life, and seeing the students each sitting in his and her own chairs seemed an apt way to get them to understand that each of them owned a particular point of view and set of experiences, and that those were both held together right that very second in the seat each student was sitting in. That is, you already have a point of view and a story. But so very many writers want to leave that point of view and story—to walk away from themselves—in light of what looks like a better story and point of view held by a writer whose work they admire. They end up wanting to write like somebody else and about somebody else—they want to leave their own chair and go sit in someone else’s chair, a chair that looks oh-so-much-more attractive than their own. The problem with this is that the chair they wish to move into is already occupied, whether by Hemingway, or O’Connor, or Carver, or, or, or—that chair is filled. To sit in that chair would be impossible, because that chair only holds one person—it’s not a love seat.
The second idea entailed in this whole analogy or metaphor or whatever … is that what made Hemingway’s and O’Connor’s and Carver’s writing important and meaningful and real is that they wrote from their own chair. They didn’t walk away from themselves in order to go sit in someone else’s chair—so what does that say about your own chair? This: It is always and only your chair—no one else’s, just as the chair from which the great writers wrote was their own too. Lesson: Don’t leave you to go find your point of view and your story. You are all you have been given. There is going to be no out-of-chair experience coming your way. This is who you are, and from where you ought and need to write.
** Read the full Bret Lott interview here.