How the Writing is Smarter than the Writer

Last night at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, I saw a joint reading of Andre Dubus III and one of his mentors, Thomas E. Kennedy. During the question and answer session following the reading, Andre answered questions about his forthcoming memoir.

One thing that he said really caught my attention and I have been thinking about it since he said it.

That’s the wonderful thing about writing. The writing is smarter than the writer. I set out to write an essay and then realized this would take a book to tackle. I learned more about myself and the history of my life. My only hope is that I write something useful that people can relate to. Besides my wife.
– Andre Dubus III, with the poetic license that is memory.

Not too long ago I stumbled across Everett Bogue’s blog Far Beyond the Stars and Colin Wright’s blog Exile Lifestyle. Both blogs are very, very good. Even before reading these two advocates of minimalism, I had thought that I would like to reduce my belongings to a trunk worth of clothes and a trunk worth of books. They make the goal seem even more worth pursuing.

Today, while the idea that the writing is smarter than the writer was rolling around in my head, I was reading Everett Bogue’s free ebook How to Create a Movement and Colin Wright’s free ebook How to be Remarkable.

Both ebooks talked about the importance of having passion.

So, I stopped to ask myself, “What is my writing telling me? Where is my passion?” I thought about Literature&Literacy, about the post that generated the most interesting discussion. What did I come back to again and again?


My real passion has always been poetry. I love to read novels and probably have read more novels than poems in my life time. But there is something in the poetry that strikes me, something I retain from poetry that I don’t as much with a novel.

Perhaps that’s not entirely fair. I remember my Senior Directed Readings in the Humanities at Ohio Wesleyan University. I studied the development of the sonnet from Petrarch to John Donne. One of the first things I read was Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poetry along side his sonnet cycle Astrophel and Stella. When Sidney defends “poetry” he’s defending what we would now call literature, novels as well as poems.

I have read novels like Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novels The Sand Child and The Sacred Night which were poems. And I have read and heard recited “poems” which were not even prose.

So, I am going to start following my bliss. I don’t know how that may change my writing. But Sir Philip Sidney might have an idea.


Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she (dear she) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others’ leaves to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”
–Sir Philip Sidney from Astrophel and Stella