Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dear Joyce Carol Oates

I’m writing to you about our mutual problem. You know what I’m referring to – the tendency to write a little too much every year, a few too many novels every decade. I’m working on four books at once right now and I’m not going to get the Nobel Prize doing that, no ma’am. I mean, how can we think that we’re going to create the luminous literature of eternity without more serious reflection?

Slow down, I tell myself. I don’t want to be like you, writing too much, too often, with too little editing. But I can’t help it; I’m addicted to language. Even this letter should have been more carefully considered and revised. I should have sat on it for a year at least, mulling over content and form, choosing each word with a nearly psychotic deliberation. But I didn’t. Why? Are we victims of the same lexicographic disease?

Perhaps we think that through this extraordinary volume the magic expressions will appear, the magic combination that will finally grant us a throne in the pantheon of giants. And maybe that strategy will work; maybe sheer quantity will convince the critics and readers to give us the approbation we know we deserve. But something tells me that more precise and particularized verbiage would be the smarter course and so I’m passing on this thought to you. Who knows what works of genius await someone of your obvious talent?

I just want what all writers want: to write one perfect sentence. I know you do, too, Ms. Oates. Let’s work on that together.

Your humble servant,
Eric D. Lehman

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