Monday August 16th, 2010

How Writing is Like Boxing, Maybe

gsaundersThis Missouri Review interview with George Saunders is evidently from back in 2001, but it’s full of timeless humor, general good nature, and thoughts about the writing (and teaching-of-writing) process. Two tidbits here, but make time for the whole thing:

In my work, and in my psyche, there’s this very sentimental, traditional, conventional side that’s always in argument with a more radical, sarcastic side. Some of my stories are really sentimental, but they’re layered over with weird, satirical stuff. For example, “Sea Oak” is a very straightforward story about the haves and the have-nots, about one of the have-nots saying, “Why didn’t I get anything?” To get away with what could be a saccharine, sentimental arc, I cover it with all this dark, perverse stuff that makes the reader mistake me for a scatological cynic.


Any mastery you can achieve in writing is totally personal and incredibly nuanced. It’s a sort of antimastery, feeling comfortable with being unsure. After fifteen years of doing this, what I know about writing is nothing I could actually say to you. It’s like boxing, maybe. A good boxer could tell you, “Always keep your hands up,” or “It’s important to be a good counterpuncher.” But the reason the boxer is a good boxer is not that he can articulate those things but because he can do them instantaneously—and also of course because he has great abs and can jump rope for three hours straight.