Such is Life: Griffith Review memoir issue

by | Jul 26, 2011 | Blog, Improve your writing, Memoir | 2 comments

This is the cover of the new edition of the Griffith Review, “Such is Life”, which arrived in my Brooklyn mailbag yesterday and will be available on August 1. I am thrilled to be a contributor to this memoir-themed issue, which features the fine company of (among others) Frank Moorhouse, Lloyd Jones, Debra Adelaide, Marion Halligan, David Carlin, John Tranter and Toni Jordan.

My essay, “Never Stop Looking”, is about how complicated it is to look at photographs of people who are suffering, whether the subjects are private or public. It was prompted by some extremely personal photos I had taken a while ago now (no, not that kind), which I had not thought much about, nor looked at, in years.

Writing the essay was a bitch. It took me months, on and off, and umpteen drafts, to slowly figure out what bugged me and what I was trying to say. I’ve read it too often now to have any clue whether I’ve said much of value, but I’m grateful it was accepted by Erica Sontheimer and her team. (And can I just note here, with thanks, that Griffith Review pays its contributors in actual money, and ahead of pub-date, in addition to two contributor copies and a subscription. This is almost unheard-of here in New York, where contributor copies and a byline are often as much as you can hope for.)

More as a note to self than anything else, I list here a few pros and cons of my essay-writing process.

Things I did that were helpful

  • Read books and articles around my topic
  • Left it alone for a while – I could usually see a way of improving my current draft when I returned to it
  • Gave a draft to a trusted reader – having a small posse of people you can rely on to provide specific and constructive feedback is invaluable.

Things I did that were unhelpful 

  • Read too many books and articles around my topic
  • Tried too hard to know what my ‘argument’ was before I started writing – I’m not one of those “insta-pundits” who has a clearly thought-out response to the pantheon of contemporary cultural debates. That’s why I admire people like  Susan Sontag, Christopher Hitchens and Clive James: I’m not like that at all, for better and for worse.


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