Writing Advice: Writing is hard

Writing is hard—it’s a form of punishment in school, and rightly so—and I stood paralyzed before all the different ways this simple message might be put.

Jimmy Burns, narrator in Charles Portis’ Gringos

Finished a re-read of Gringos this week. If you are looking to get into Portis True Grit is the right starting place but Gringos is the right ending place. I’ve written about my love of Portis before – he is a great American novelist and novelist of America (although I confess I have never been able to get through Masters of Atlantis, which seems to me to just be a bad book).

Gringos is a book about many things, and one of the things it is about is writing and communication and miscommunication. There are articles in crackpot magazines, mysterious anonymous messages, indecipherable Mayan inscriptions, problems in translation etc. Writers don’t come out so well in it (“Bollard lived on the top floor of the Napoles Apartments and wrote novels. Of the grim modern kind, if I can read faces. I hadn’t read his books. My fear was that they might not be quite as bad as I wanted them to be.”) and part of the delight is that the critique occurs in such a brilliantly written novel.