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Tag: jennifer egan

Fail Better

Over at Salon, here’s the most gifted Jennifer Egan:

One of my strengths as a writer is that I’m a good problem-solver. I write these unthinking, ungoverned first drafts. The project for me always is to turn that instinctive stuff into pages that work.

I want all the flights of fancy, and I can only get them in a thoughtless way. So I allow myself that. Which means that my next step has to be all about problem-solving. My attitude cannot be, Gee, I wrote it, it’s good. I’d never get anywhere. It’s all about seeing what’s wrong from a very analytical place. It’s a dialectic.

Once I have a draft I make the plans, edit on hard copy, and make an extensive outline for the revision. The revision notes I wrote for “Look at Me” were 80 pages long.

This essay appears in a new book: Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and WhyThey Do What They Do.

The Mother of Invention

I never liked Madonna’s records or her acting. Watching her being interviewed is painful. And as a sex symbol I’ve only occasionally been drawn to her. I’m not turned on by the women-pretending-to-have-balls schtick, at least not in her case. So when she was in her prime, I didn’t dig her.

That said, I admire her for sticking around so long and for all that she’s accomplished as a pop icon. And I learned some more about appreciating her after reading this 2002 GQ article by Jennifer Egan:

For Madonna, it’s fantasy only; even when her moves have looked self destructive, she’s always emerged unscathed. To be loved as a celebrity, she once said, “You need to disappear, run out of steam, run out of ideas…You need to have a drinking or a drug problem. You have to go in and out of rehabs so people can feel sorry for you. Or you need to kill yourself, basically.” But Madonna has avoided all of that: no rehabs or suicide attempts, no arrests or collapses or devouring lawsuits or serial divorces or appalling plastic surgery — scandals, yes, but always of her own making and always, finally, to her own advantage. Sometime very early on, Madonna learned a different way to subvert her rage and quell the fear and pain that are usually handmaidens to an ambition as ravenous as hers: hard work. “I ultimately end up making my own work,” she has said. “I don’t sit around waiting for other people to give it to me. I’ve had to do this to ensure myself constant employment.”

Morton’s account of Madonna’s early performing years is a litany of wrong turns (including the fact that her first single, “Everybody,” was marketed as the work of a black artist) that could have terminally discouraged a less tenacious and resourceful performer. But no matter what went wrong, Madonna always had a next move. She kept producing good material by playing to her own strengths and finding people to compensate for her weaknesses. This ability to create year after year in the face of loud and persistent nay-saying is the single thing that has ensured Madonna’s ongoing success. I can only admire it.

Now comes the point where the writer is supposed to indulge in a bit of prognostication: what’s next? I could do this–ruminate sagely over the staying power of her marriage to a macho guy ten years younger or tsk that those tank tops might not cut it when she’s 50. But by defying twenty years’ worth of such speculations, Madonna has made a lot of smart people look like dummies. So I’ll pass. Better to admit that I have no idea what she’ll do, except that I can’t imagine her stopping. There’s pleasure in not knowing–especially when term limits on fame seem shorter than ever and the surprises we get from celebrities are rarely pleasant. Madonna hasn’t exhausted us because we haven’t exhausted her, which is another way of saying that she hasn’t exhausted herself.

[Photo Credit Via Village9991]

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