Flannery O'Connor's 3 (Posthumous) Writing Tips

March 25, 2011 in American literature, Short Stories, Southern Writers

Photo by Idea Go

by Katie Davis

We all know Flannery O’Connor: the mastermind behind “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a devout Roman Catholic from Georgia, and of course, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century. As I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for the first time in a beginner’s fiction workshop, I was completely gripped by O’Connor’s prose and after the complex, haunting finale I couldn’t help but wonder: “How did she do that?” Though O’Connor is no longer alive to give us writing tips in person, it isn’t hard to glean advice from her biography, letters, and fiction. So if you find yourself wondering, “What would Flannery O’Connor do?” here are a few suggestions:

1.    Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite
O’Connor believed that writing was hard work. Famously she remarked, “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair falls out and the teeth decay.” In her letters, compiled in Habit of Being, she reveals that she was often frustrated by how long it took her to finish a piece because of her constant rewriting. However, her hard work clearly paid off since her stories seem to have flown seamlessly from her mind to the page. So, when in doubt, rewrite! You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

2.    Don’t be afraid of the dark.
It seems beginning writers (myself included) are often tentative to describe controversial events or issues in their work for fear of a negative response. O’Connor took the opposite tack. “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial,” she remarks in one of her letters. The ending of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” certainly does not fit the cookie cutter “happily ever after,” but this is what makes the story so powerful and memorable. So, don’t be afraid to face the sinister or perverse in your writing, but keep in mind O’Connor’s final word of advice…

3.    Seek truth.
This suggestion may appear the most obvious, but it can also be the most difficult to follow. O’Connor states “The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode,” but what exactly does “truth” mean in this context? For me, writing truthfully means pursuing your artistic purposes with conviction while tuning out (to some extent) the mutterings of critics.  It is evident that O’Connor believed in the truth of her writing, as she defended her “not conventional” novel, Wise Blood, to an editor, stating that if he didn’t like it she would take it elsewhere. Though it may be difficult to write truthfully at times, O’Connor shows us that this search for truth can be one of the most essential and beautiful things about creating art.

To learn more about Flannery O’Connor and her places of origin/inspiration watch the Flannery O’Connor Literary Tour Video from LiteraryTraveler.tv.

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