Here’s a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. It’s from a writer’s blog post by Charles J. Shields, author of the forthcoming Vonnegut biography, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, described as “the culmination of five years of research and writing— the first-ever biography of one of the most important literary iconoclasts of his time.”
That blog, by the way, has this gem by Shields in a post about the biggest decision facing a biographer, titled “I Take Thee: Choosing Your Subject”:
To start with, the way I begin looking for a subject is this: half of my mind is creative, and half is financial. The creative side asks, “Is this a person so interesting that I could work for years on the book, even when the going gets rough, when interviews are disappointing, when research and travel sometimes turns up nothing?” If the answer is yes— even when I first wake up in the morning and I’m at my truest self (with my hair sticking up), that’s a good sign.
Then the financial side of my mind asks, “And when, after years of solitary work, you finish the biography, who will go into a bookstore and say, ‘Sure, I’ll pay $30 for that book”? In other words, the appeal of it has to be widespread. (. . .)
Over the past few years, I’ve suggested a number of ideas for biographies to my agent, Jeff Kleinman. And his response, practically every time is, “Not big enough,” meaning the readership for the biography would be too small. One time, frustrated, I e-mailed him, “How about a biography of God? Big enough?”
He answered back, “If you can get Him to sign a release.”
Priceless. But back to Vonnegut . . . in another post on writing style, Shields quotes Vonnegut:
“Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”
So . . . are you writing a novel? Are you a swooper or a basher?