Max Sebald's Writing Tips
February 1, 2013 11:01 AM   Subscribe

"As far as I’m aware, nobody that term recorded Max’s words systematically. However, in the wake of his death, David and I found ourselves returning to our notes, where we’d written down many of Max’s remarks. These we gleaned and shared with our classmates. Still, I wish we’d been more diligent, more complete. The comments recorded here represent only a small portion of Max’s contribution to the class."
posted by Lorin (9 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I love Sebald, especially The Rings of Saturn. This is my favourite quotation from him, which I found in The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald:
“As you walk along, you find things. I think that’s the advantage of walking. It’s just one of the reasons why I do that a lot. You find things by the wayside or you buy a brochure written by a local historian, which is in a tiny little museum somewhere, which you would never find in London. And in that you find odd details which lead you somewhere else, and so it’s a form of unsystematic searching [...] And the more I got on, the more I felt that, really, one can find something only in that way, i.e., in the same way in which, say, a dog runs through a field.”
posted by oulipian at 11:21 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

•The use of twins or triplets who are virtually indistinguishable from each other can lend a spooky, uncanny edge. Kafka does it.

I have the same first name as my supervisor and his boss. People from other departments usually hesitate before talking about any of us.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:24 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

The chronicling of his life is turning out like one of his stories. Great link. Thanks.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:26 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, this is just great. I especially like this- A tight structural form opens possibilities. Take a pattern, an established model or sub-genre, and write to it. In writing, limitation gives freedom. I've always sort of felt like this was true, and I remember having a very frustrating conversation with someone who found these sorts of limitations inherently restrictive, in a bad way. It was like we were speaking two totally different languages...
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:28 AM on February 1, 2013

Write about obscure things but don’t write obscurely.

I phrase it slightly differently: if you vaguebook, I will mock you mercilessly; I will then be informed that what you were hinting at was that your dad's dying of cancer; I will then feel terrible but also still sort of justified, and I will feel bad about feeling sort of justified, and the negative feelings on both sides will destroy our friendship. So don't write obscurely, because then horrible things will happen and they will be all your fault.

I like the way this guy phrases it better.
posted by gurple at 11:28 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

By all means be experimental, but let the reader be part of the experiment.

In one sentence he settles a debate I've been having with myself for years as to how straddle the experimentation-communication divide. This is amazing.
posted by invitapriore at 12:23 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Look in older encyclopaedias. They have a different eye. They attempt to be complete and structured but in fact are completely random collected things that are supposed to represent our world.

I've also come to love tidbits like this from great teachers. Teaching the particulars of technique is important, but it's equally important to drop some inspiration from time to time, and I think slightly mysterious and deceptively fertile little aphorisms like this are a great means of doing that.
posted by invitapriore at 12:29 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Particular disciplines have specialized terminology that is its own language. I could translate a page of Ian McEwan in half an hour—but golf equipment! another matter. Two Sainsbury’s managers talking to each other are a different species altogether.

Flaubert gave this advice, too. Knowing the jargon and practices of various professions and hobbies helps your fiction look more convincing.

I'm with invitapriore. It's fun to look where writers are looking, and to see the differences between what I make of it and what they do.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2013

I think this is one of the best things ever posted on metafilter. When i found The Emigrants in the library i fell hard, he was my favourite living author pretty much but all the reviews were a bit meh, then he died and suddenly he was every reviewer's favourite author - just like, until the blockbuster Kandinsky show about 15 years back, you never met another Kandinsky fan (painter). I'm afraid The Emigrants is still my favourite, perhaps because it was first or perhaps because it reminds me of A Fortunate Man (Berger/Jean somebody - that doctor later committed suicide!) but this reminds you of why he was exceptional, not just another of those brainpicker lists by writers "get up early, breathe out poetry" blah blah (nothing wrong with brainpicker, just saying some of it's author tips lists are a bit samey). This post is pure curmudgeon, sorry. Sebald was amazing and real.
posted by maiamaia at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

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