George Saunders was the single most important writer I discovered in college, and Civil Warland in Bad Decline was among the earliest story collections I read while dreaming of being a fiction writer.
So you can imagine my surprise this year when in one of his Story Club newsletters (which is excellent, by the way) he linked to a preface for the book I’d never read before, one in which he describes in loving, misty-eyed detail everything it took to write his first book. Turns out the piece was written for an edition that came out years after the one I read, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve discovered this year. My favorite passage:
I will forevermore, I expect, be trying to re-create the purity of that time. Having done nothing, I had nothing to lose. Having made a happy life without having achieved anything at all artistically, I found that any artistic achievement was a bonus. Having finally conceded that I wasn’t a prodigy after all, I had the total artistic freedom that is afforded only to the beginner, the doofus, the aspirant.
Here it is in its entirety. And yes, I’m mostly linking it here so I’ll have easy access to it for the rest of my life nbd.