I read Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee in the year 2001 when I was living in New York. I had written two books; flops. Disgrace focused my intentions. It became apparent to me that there were heights almost unattainable that could only be reached by careful, quiet, slow work.
Writing with The Slow Man
During the nine months of my last pregnancy I sat at my desk in Brooklyn overlooking the garden every morning and wrote. At night I read either Chekhov, Carver or Coetzee; most likely the latter. I broke my routine on September the 11th when my husband called me downstairs and we watched the news on the television then went outside and from our brownstone stoop saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers.
My daughter was born at the end of November. I'd finished the book a couple of days before. In the spring I sent the book to agents, then it went to publishers. Happy days.
After it was published, I sent it to John Coetzee in Australia.
It was a breathless moment to stand and hold in my hands a letter from the man I called 'the master':
I sent Mr Coetzee my second book 'This Human Season' and he read it and replied again and added that if I wished I could use his response for my publication. I did so with great pride.
My third book, I wrote to tell him, would deal with 'schizophrenia.' 'Sounds didactic,' he replied. He was right. It never quite worked out.
He is a man who is careful with his words.
He was right and I had a lot of trouble with that book. I had a lot of trouble with life from then until recently. Still, as Hemingway says, a man (or a woman) has to take a lot of punishment to write a truly funny book.
Now, I am teaching writers how to write, because I believe a sense of camaraderie joint with a communal commitment can concentrate the mind.
We may not reach the greatest heights, but we can at least try.
I believe writers should have apprenticeships to other writers. I am not so eminently qualified of course for such attachments, but I had my master in Coetzee.
Coetzee is part of my story-telling story.
“All autobiography is storytelling, all writing is autobiography.”
With this statement, he releases us from the burden of unfathomable genius and reminds us that we need to be ourselves, only more so; exposed and simple.
The time we spend with the slow man during The Ninety Day Novel Class at The Novelry is a wonderful part of the process.