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Paul Harding: His success and advice for writers

A talented-drummer, turned extremely-talented-writer who once was part of the band Cold Water Flat (which was created during his student years at the University of Massachusetts), had to leave it because its group members had creative differences. The band might have broken up, but this break-up led to the making of Paul Harding, an author of remarkable merit, whose written work was brought to readers only after a lot of hard work from the writer. The former drummer devoted his time and energy to writing the ever-popular novel ‘Tinkers.’. He wrote whenever possible, in the daytime, evenings, at night, on-the-go, even on airplanes, in the parking lot - and he made history with his dedication and perseverance.

Although his first novel was rejected by some major publications and agents initially, the sharp eyes of Erika Goldman of Bellevue Press, which is a press section of the New York University’s department of medicine, did not pass the opportunity of publishing his manuscript.

Paul Harding has still not shared the names of those who had rejected him, but he only has praise for those who supported and guided him. This is mentioned in an article about him in the New York Times, which calls him Mr. Cinderella, soon after he won the Pulitzer. This is true, because in none of his interviews he has spoken or written about those who had turned down his manuscript. Any writer of his skill, won’t focus on rejections, but on mastering the art and foundations, which make literary fiction matter.

For any musician who loves his art, music is his meditation, his life. Whatever talent anyone gains, only comes to them, when their focus is placed deep in the art’s crevices, channels and its very depths. Paul Harding after leaving his work as a musician behind searched for similar absorption and engrossment in writing. He followed ‘writing’ and never looked back. His journey began in Massachusetts, and after traversing a long writing journey through the years, he currently lives near Boston with his wife and children.

Leaving his life as a drummer behind, Paul Harding became an American writer of repute who won the Pulitzer for Fiction, for his book ‘Tinkers’ in 2010, and received several more accolades over the years. His work as a writer drew readers everywhere.

His life and works

He is most known for his book “The Tinkers,” which is the story of George and his epileptic father, Howard, and also his grandfather. It also includes interesting characters as Gilbert, the Hermit, and others. As one reads through the not-so-thick book, one realizes that it is the author’s ability to delve into the mind of his characters, which gives him such a grasp over the story. Pouring over the paragraphs, every scene, becomes a concentrated activity. There is always an internal and all-knowing research at play in his novels.

Be it describing the parts of a clock, or how a clock-repairer works, or the conjuring-terrible-images, epileptic fits of George’s father, Howard’s meetings with Gilbert, daily activities, and the many small scenes, which might be taken-for-granted in some books and stories, become the epicenter of life in Harding’s work. He has an especial ease in describing nature, too. Descriptions of trees, the sun, shadows, landscapes, forests and the woods, the mundane and the ordinary; moving between scenes, channeling time with stunning grace; in the most silver-tongued manner, engendering a strong sense of perception, pulls the reader closer to the story.

The author also has an influential ability to describe scenery, happenings, and events with immense creative artistry, and in several different ways. Most of the scenes in Tinkers are elegantly effusive, subjunctive, and ponderable. Along with beautiful language, Tinkers is a stream of human emotions, and a framed chef-d’oeuvre of the epistolary nature of memory and thoughts, as if they were letters to selves. His prose is poetic and lyrical, interspersing well-spun words, and clear and cogent presentation.

He does share often in his interviews how the manuscript of Tinkers stayed in his desk drawer for a long time, before it saw the light of day. In his interviews, he also shares that he had not expected the success ‘Tinkers’ had received.

Regarding his education in the field of writing, Paul Harding has studied Creative Writing. He studied for his MFA at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, admission to which is quite selective. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his tutor was none other than Marilynne Robinson, also a Pulitzer Prize Winner for her book, Gilead. He has had other writing mentors and tutors, as well.

When Tinkers was released, only 3,500 books were published. It progressed with time. Marilynne Robinson’s thoughts on Tinkers were: “Tinkers is truly remarkable.” Major publications reviewed his first novel glowingly—New Yorker on Tinkers and Time Out Chicago on the same novel are brief reviews on the excellence of this masterpiece. Many more publications and other personalities had words of praise for Tinkers. Through the acclaim it received from all quarters and through word-of-mouth, the book became a major hit with readers all over the world.

From the very beginning, Paul Harding had always been an avid reader and had read a lot of 19th-century novels. He often mentions reading Terra Nostra, by Carlos Fuentes. The book ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne also finds mention in his first novel. A fictional book also finds its way into Tinkers. The author also follows Karl Barth. He was also drawn to transcendentalism and theology like his mentors, which provoked much of the scholarly written work he has pursued, which has been the fundament of his writing. His writing is contemplative, detailed, and due to its pace, brings to mind the depth to which the author has immersed himself in his writing.

His written work also has a transcendental quality about it, and this combination of exemplary literary virtue combined with fluid and crisp detailing, and also, inclusive of the dodging of certain writing rules, like dialogues without quotation marks, makes Paul Harding, an inspiration for many. His tutors also stressed on grammar, so there was an instant emphasis on “knowing all the rules in writing, before breaking them.” He has also taught writing at the University of Harvard and at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

His sequel novel Enon also received a lot of recognition and good reviews. However, some reviews of the novel were mixed, (because of the comparison to Tinkers) even though there was unanimous extolment, on the use of excellent language and exemplary writing. The story of Enon is about Charlie Crosby, who is the grandson of George, and it revolves around his life after he loses his 13-year old daughter, Kate, in an accident, and also when his wife, Susan, leaves him, not being able to cope with the loss of their daughter. He hallucinates and suffers, following the problems that arise post all this loss. There are flashbacks in the novel, bringing the reader nearer an understanding of the life of the protagonist. It is a story of grief, pain, loss, and finally coming to terms with it, in someway.

One of his short stories was also published in the Harvard Review, which is an excellent and a touching story about an old woman named Miss Hale, her fraternal twin sister, and a young boy who witnesses the graying old life of Miss Hale. Some of the events described in this short story are noteworthy and should be read, for the use of magnificent language to evoke versatile imagery and visuals, without the aid of any true visual or illustration at all. The story is poignant and has no room for the unaesthetic use of melodrama, for the sake of effect - this sensitive trait is one of the inherent appeals of Paul Harding’s masterly creations. Walter, Charmed, another short story of his, is an intricate weaving of elusion, escapes, pain, agony, love, blood, and death. An extreme rendition of what the loss of love can cause in a man - the story takes an unexpected turn, in an already unconventional setting.

Winning the Pulitzer

Paul Harding was informed of winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction online. He did not learn of his success directly from anyone. He also won a two-book deal with Random House, after winning the honor. His life changed as he found wealth and name.

His interviews and his advice for writers

There is much to learn from his life and his dedication to the art of creative writing, which can also help enhance journalistic work, in some respects. Paul Harding’s prose is detailed, non-compliant, prolific and perceptive, and all writers can learn from him and his work. Therefore, his advice generally holds true for everyone associated with writing. His advices range from what to read, who to read, answering questions like - should writing be taught and other factors. His advice can well be used by writers of fiction, non-fiction and journalists. Every writer would have something to gain from them.

An author such as Harding is evergreen, for his novels are timeless. His writing springs forth from an ocean of creativity and eloquence. Reminiscing the success of his work, his inspirations and his life so far and the excellent advice he has for writers, one can only learn from these strings of knowledge. His writing counsel is as guiding as is his writing. Harding’s writing is contemplative, immersive, meditative, evocative, and deep.

An interested reader will quickly realize that his work is not going to follow a regular plot, or a thrill-rendering or solutions-that-solve-conflicts storyline – but would perhaps involve insistent-perception, in-the-moment thoughts, feelings, the very essence of existence, in the minutiae and the sometimes overlooked points that keep occurring in life, which connect life itself, and the symbolism of the material in the firmament – as eventful major happenings, or as subtle intertwined allusions and references. The reader will have to plunge unhindered into his work if it matters to them. There is no other way to understand such an elevated level of meditative writing.

He has given several interviews at universities and for varied publications over a period of time. These are available as videos, audios and as published articles. He has discussed a lot of his life, his writing and suggested writing behaviour for writers-pursuing-outstanding-work. Learning from Paul Harding is something most authors and writers do. Some may agree with his ideas, whereas some writers may not – but the crux is that any writer who wishes to enhance their skills can learn much from him. If nothing, then one can definitely learn, writing-with-concentration from him.

One of his interviews informs readers of his past works, and his editing process, and how he personally can never imagine writing a blog. This could be because of his preference for print. In most of his interviews, he often mentions that if dancers, singers and other artists are taught their art, why should writing not be taught? – This, as an indirect response to the constant debate about whether creative writing should be taught or not. Writing can be self-taught, of course, but if one has the means to learn it from the masters, then such an opportunity should be accepted.

One of his other important must-read interviews contains five important writing tips he has shared for writers, which are available online to read in the Publishers Weekly. It includes wonderful advice that any emerging or established writer could be informed by. He suggests writing clearly about what one knows; knowing the intricate and smallest aspects of the lives of characters, as against a covering superficiality based only on writing-prowess. According to him, “Imaginative truth is as powerful and often enough more so than fact.” Any non-writing artist could also acquire a piece of treasure from these five important tips shared by him. He stresses on reading the best books possible, and to engage in reading quality over quantity. In the Publisher’s Weekly interview, he shares:

Not only do you need to read the best books, you need to read them well

His advice on books applies to all written work, and that is how progress will happen. He also says, “Get your art written any way you can. It’s tempting as a teacher to present your own method as normative.” Howsoever good a writer may be, there is always more to learn, more to understand and improvise. Any writer who wishes to improve their present skills could do well to follow this advice of his.

One of the best writing advice that Paul Harding has given when he mentions Tinkers is that when he was writing it, he didn’t know if it would get published or not. His thought clearly points out that ‘write for the love of writing, not for any outcome’ - not that he didn’t love being published, he did, but ‘writing’ was his priority – after this came publications, the rewards and awards.

In another short interview with the Huffington Post, he has shared the names of his literary heroes, and some interesting information on words he likes and dislikes and recommendation on a particular book to read, including other wonderful responses.

In an elaborate interview with Tin House, the author shares the long journey that Tinkers made, how his writing comes to him in instances, instead of as episodes, how he collages his work together, how he writes his fiction – his process – clearly indicating that there isn’t only one particular set way to process creativity into any form of writing – it should just be the way the writer, journalist or a poet envisages the writing process. Of course, the confidence of pursuing one’s own method of writing comes after years of practice, not otherwise. He also subtly explains his views on theology, transcendentalism and spirituality in this particular longish interview.

There are several outlets where his interviews have been carried out, those who have shared his journey and inspirational life for others to take note of.

The subjects he chooses, like that of Tinkers, which is an exceptional read, where he used snippets from his own Grandparents’ life-story to the subject of Enon, engender serious themes of time, space, people, mind, loss, grief, illness, relationships, old-age, tragedy, suddenness, the inevitability of life, presence, the basis of being, and others. However, not every writer or reader would identify with such themes, or would want to write about them. However, there still is excellence to be learnt from such an incredible author – his style of writing, use of language, focused approach to textual composition, and many other such qualities. Those who enjoy reading and writing, would take back home, and to their work, an appreciation of the art of writing that gives extensions to the basic cornerstones of writing, from which, emerge important areas of writing like creative non-fiction, journalism and even poetry. __There is nothing to lose, but only to understand and learn from the advice given by a writer and author as gifted as Paul Harding.

Picture Credit: Pixabay.com

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