“By Going Wrong, I Began to Work Out How to Go Right”

Today on the train ride back to Rome from Puglia I caught up on some podcast listening, including a Fresh Air episode featuring the writer, David Mitchell.  The title of the post is the quote from Mr. Mitchell early in the interview that quickly spun me into a time-traveling* train-ride rapture.  How divine when discussion of art and art-making transcend the medium, as is right and righteous.

The following are all paraphrased quotes from David Mitchell from his conversation with Terry Gross:

The better tied the straight-jacket the greater the actor’s escapology has to be to get out… Maybe that’s what originality is–the confinements you choose from the beginning.

It’s a life long job before you are worthy to sweep up the crumbs under the tables of the masters.

Structure, originality and innovation is not actually a story… useful ingredients, but not art itself.

Art isn’t the What, it’s the How.  {then mentions a name, but I can’t make it out, sounds like “loll”…?} said this very well: If you try and write about the universe, you’ll end up staring at the bricks in your garden, but if you start with the bricks, you may end up saying something new about the universe… start with the people.

Originality needs obstacles.

Listen to the entire interview.


Full Transcript

* By time-traveling I mean the effect that a good book (or podcast) can have on your (lost) perception of the passage of time during a journey.

2 replies
  1. drea
    drea says:

    Nice. l like his points. But I especially like the final clarification of your time-traveling metaphor.

  2. tja
    tja says:

    Thanks. Do listen to the interview if you haven’t yet; those British (with their accents) make statements of profound wisdom feel cosmic.

    One more note on this post: I looked at the transcript and here is the word for word of the part I liked best:

    David Mitchell: “Yeah, you go back in a way to older, more traditional forms. You also come to accept that actually, Shakespeare cleaned everything up. There’s no new turf after him, really. All the postmodern themes, the play-within-the-play, metafiction, it’s already been done in the 17th century. You can’t win. But art isn’t the what. Art is the how. Lowell said this really well: If you try to write about the universe, you’ll end up staring at the bricks at the bottom of your garden. But if you start with those bricks, you may well end up writing something new about the universe.

    Start with the people. People are why I fall in love with a book. If you start there, then you can kind of allow ideas and maybe allow innovation and a new structure to sort of grow organically from these stem cells of people. But I think you need to start with the people and how they interact, which is your plot.”

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