William Maxwell treats his personal material as if it were history. It is one part memory, one part research and one part hearsay but one hundred percent compassion. Compassion in my mind is an admixture of feeling and sustained attention with regard to others. Compassion is the absence of cruelty. Compassion is steady and relaxed—allowing patience where we may not have any for ourselves. Compassion is acceptance of what you didn't realize or can't understand. Compassion is not attainable without process—going through the various methods of drafting. Each one provides you with another perspective, another point of focus. Each method provides more ingredients to the approach that helps the content to stand on its own so that the writer can leave it behind them.
—Nancy Beckett

Skyping into a Writing GroupMost Wednesday nights I’m at the kitchen table staring into my laptop screen at a living room full of women. It's my writing group, which is presided over by Nancy Beckett, an incredible playwright and writing teacher in Chicago. My admiration for her insight, depth, and crazy, mordant Irish wit never evaporates.

Everyone else assembles in her apartment for our three-hour sessions; I Skype in from St. Paul.

This week we read an excerpt from the great editor and writer William Maxwell's creative nonfiction, and, as is the drill each week, Nancy gave us her deeply insightful lesson, a portion of which I cite above.

What I love about this work is that it goes past how to string sentences together, though there is that. It reminds me why I write. As Nancy would say, "People write because they can't help themselves." I write in order to know. I write in order to be changed.

(photo above: Tina, one of the group members, reads from her novel-in-progress.)

Share Your Reflection



Love this.
For me, too, writing serves so many purposes--this makes me more conscious of it, especially when so much writing I do these days is on-demand for work...that I not forget the bigger art of changing my self.

I love this idea, and find it to be true in my own writing as well. I am working on a story right now but hugely struggling with one particular character. I know it's because I have little compassion for this type of person in real life and the same holds for this story. I love it when authors can make me see and understand the complexity in all of us, but here, my own judgmental attitude and lack of compassion is getting in the way. I'm hoping I can write my way out of it!

I was so delighted when I came across this on Facebook that I had to look it up on your website! William Maxwell has become a favorite writer of mine in the past few years as I've begun a mission of looking for kindness is fine literature. It's nice to know there are kindred spirits out there! Please continue posts in this vein!!

Liza, My favorite of all Maxwell's books is So Long, See You Tomorrow which I think is his masterpiece but is also an American masterpiece on the level of A Death In The Family. This book was suggested to me by Jose Barchilon, a brilliant and compassionate psychoanalyst. It's a book about forgiveness,but primarily about forgiving yourself. It broke my heart and opened my heart.

What refreshing words...compassion has long been my personal passion...being a voice for those who have felt discouraged and or disillusioned by life and at times, even the church. Thank you for inspiring me with your words/thoughts and actions.
I have recently published a book titled JOUNREY which deals with the topic of compassion and inclusion....I am a true lover or words and appreciate those whose words inspirt me as well! Peace....