Why Writers Need to Celebrate Cormac McCarthy #writing

I’m going to post a quote, here, from No Country for Old Men.  Maybe you’ve read the book and maybe you haven’t, but I don’t care.  Study this:

“He ran cold water over his wrists until they stopped bleeding and he tore strips from a handtowel with his teeth and wrapped his wrists and went back into the office. He sat on the desk and fastened the toweling with tape from a dispenser, studying the dead man gaping up from the floor. When he was done he got the deputy’s wallet out of his pocket and took the money and put it in the pocket of his shirt and dropped the wallet to the floor. Then he picked up his airtank and the stungun and walked out the door and got into the deputy’s car and started the engine and backed around and pulled out and headed up the road.”

Okay?  Now; read it again, but pay attention to the bold words.

“He ran cold water over his wrists until they stopped bleeding and he tore strips from a handtowel with his teeth and wrapped his wrists and went back into the office. He sat on the desk and fastened the toweling with tape from a dispenser, studying the dead man gaping up from the floor. When he was done he got the deputy’s wallet out of his pocket and took the money and put it in the pocket of his shirt and dropped the wallet to the floor. Then he picked up his airtank and the stungun and walked out the door and got into the deputy’s car and started the engine and backed around and pulled out and headed up the road.”

That’s a whole lot of and’ing, ain’t it?

When I first read this book, I was a little taken aback by McCarthy’s writing style.  At first, I figured it was a thing he was doing to evoke the sense of an old cowboy relating a story on a front porch somewhere, but as I dug deeper into some of his other works, I soon realized that this is just how the man writes.  He seems to run away from commas and semi-colons while screaming frantically, instead choosing to stuff another “and” in there whenever he can.

It takes getting used to but, at the same time, one must admit that it suits him.  At the same time, he’s not exactly hurting for lack of sales, is he?

And this is my point in bringing this up.  My wife, who is my best and most trusted critic, flays me alive if I rely on the words “and” as well as “or” in my writing too much, and her first pass through a draft always includes highlights of their usage when she sees them jumping out more than she’d like.  These kinds of things tend to bug the hell out of her, as they do with other readers, so she advises me to keep an eye out.  Most of the time, I’ll listen to her.

You’re going to run into all sorts of people in your life who will tell you how you’re supposed to write.  Editors, friends, family, and the like; they’ll all tell you what you’re doing wrong.  In an alternate universe, there are an army of people who, having never heard of Cormac or his work, would be the first in line to point at the above paragraph and explain why he was an outright hack.

But in this universe, our friend Cormac is a Pulitzer Prize winner and those same people praise him as a literary genius.  The secret is that Cormac McCarthy doesn’t give a shit what they call him.  He’s just focused on telling the story the way it needs to be told.

Of course, we’re not all geniuses like McCarthy.  Some of us actually are shit writers, despite our fondest wishes to believe otherwise.  But, because shit writing is subjective, you owe it to yourself to keep plugging away regardless of that danger.  Have the humility to hear criticism and incorporate those things that make sense to you, but also have the wisdom and self belief to know what must stay.

There’s a story in there that you’ve got to get out; just get the son of a bitch told.

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One thought on “Why Writers Need to Celebrate Cormac McCarthy #writing

  1. For me, its the old active, passive issue. I tend to write and tell all my stories with an emphasis on passive and it bugs some people. I’m a hillbilly from Missouri and this just how we talk. When I write I just let the words go and the story tell itself.

    That’s why God made editors after all. I don’t have a huge experience with professional editors but they sometimes can tell if something is just your style, or you are doing it our of ignorance. But your right, getting the story on paper is the main point. The rest will just have to come after.

    Like

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