4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Make Something Better

She was fierce about writers she didn't like, fierce about writers she said had done a bad job or were lazy.

I never met Judith Moore. To me she was a voice over the phone: slangy, half-cynical, eager to talk about her dog, and passionate about writing. I first talked to her in the summer of 1995, when I flew to San Diego from Boston to do several stories and learned she lived in Berkeley. She was polite but hesitant. After all, she might end up hating what I wrote. Luckily, she liked my stories, and our telephone conversations grew friendlier and longer, easily lasting an hour. She didn't give me assignments but assumed I could find stories on my own. When I told her my ideas, she might say, "So-and-So did that three years ago" or "That sounds like a one-trick pony" or "Jim doesn't want any more stories about the zoo," before settling on something she thought might work.

She was fierce about writers she didn't like, fierce about writers she said had done a bad job or were lazy. So I felt fortunate I didn't fall into that category. She never said much about my stories, never asked me to change anything. At times she might laugh at a detail or say that Jim liked something in particular. Now and then I wanted a more substantial compliment, but usually the most she said was, "Oh, you get it," meaning, I supposed, that I understood what she understood about writing.

More often Judith would talk about what books she was reading or ask what I was reading, and there would follow an excited exchange. Or she would talk about friends we had in common, and again her enthusiasm would take charge. "Oh, I simply love him," she might say. Or she would talk about Jim Holman, talk about his shyness, his idiosyncrasies, and how much she respected him. And again: "I simply love him!"

After several years I came to realize that "to have gotten it" was the greatest of her compliments. She held writers to a high standard, but once she felt a writer had gotten it, she stopped worrying about him or her. She took all writing extremely seriously -- nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. And she assumed that if someone else took it seriously, then that person would work hard to make it right. So she scorned poseurs and triflers. And while I've always thought I took writing seriously, Judith's attitude led me to work harder. Hearing her, I would think, "So writing really is a serious business after all," even though I'd never really doubted it, except sometimes during "the 4:00 a.m. oh-my-Gods," as Ray Carver used to call them.

Luckily, I still often hear Judith's voice in my head, urging me to make something better, to respect the medium, or simply to work harder. It also urges me to fight my own propensity for self-deception, to think a phrase, paragraph, or page is finished when it's not. During the ten years she read my work, she made me a better writer. And she keeps making me a better writer. I ask myself, "What would Judith think of this?" and right away I feel her passion to make a piece of writing as good as one can make it. I don't know if this keeps me honest, but it surely makes me work harder.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

24 Hour Fitness was my bathroom

“We played to like five people that night and reluctantly ate raw ground pork to avoid being rude.”
Next Article

U.S. Kids Chamber of Commerce gets mixed response in Encinitas

You pay to recycle and where does the money go?

I never met Judith Moore. To me she was a voice over the phone: slangy, half-cynical, eager to talk about her dog, and passionate about writing. I first talked to her in the summer of 1995, when I flew to San Diego from Boston to do several stories and learned she lived in Berkeley. She was polite but hesitant. After all, she might end up hating what I wrote. Luckily, she liked my stories, and our telephone conversations grew friendlier and longer, easily lasting an hour. She didn't give me assignments but assumed I could find stories on my own. When I told her my ideas, she might say, "So-and-So did that three years ago" or "That sounds like a one-trick pony" or "Jim doesn't want any more stories about the zoo," before settling on something she thought might work.

She was fierce about writers she didn't like, fierce about writers she said had done a bad job or were lazy. So I felt fortunate I didn't fall into that category. She never said much about my stories, never asked me to change anything. At times she might laugh at a detail or say that Jim liked something in particular. Now and then I wanted a more substantial compliment, but usually the most she said was, "Oh, you get it," meaning, I supposed, that I understood what she understood about writing.

More often Judith would talk about what books she was reading or ask what I was reading, and there would follow an excited exchange. Or she would talk about friends we had in common, and again her enthusiasm would take charge. "Oh, I simply love him," she might say. Or she would talk about Jim Holman, talk about his shyness, his idiosyncrasies, and how much she respected him. And again: "I simply love him!"

After several years I came to realize that "to have gotten it" was the greatest of her compliments. She held writers to a high standard, but once she felt a writer had gotten it, she stopped worrying about him or her. She took all writing extremely seriously -- nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. And she assumed that if someone else took it seriously, then that person would work hard to make it right. So she scorned poseurs and triflers. And while I've always thought I took writing seriously, Judith's attitude led me to work harder. Hearing her, I would think, "So writing really is a serious business after all," even though I'd never really doubted it, except sometimes during "the 4:00 a.m. oh-my-Gods," as Ray Carver used to call them.

Luckily, I still often hear Judith's voice in my head, urging me to make something better, to respect the medium, or simply to work harder. It also urges me to fight my own propensity for self-deception, to think a phrase, paragraph, or page is finished when it's not. During the ten years she read my work, she made me a better writer. And she keeps making me a better writer. I ask myself, "What would Judith think of this?" and right away I feel her passion to make a piece of writing as good as one can make it. I don't know if this keeps me honest, but it surely makes me work harder.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Carl DeMaio pursues Todd Gloria for sex offender bill

Next Article

John Ashbery: classmate to Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara

Poems with disjunction of syntax, a prevalence of puns, whimsy and wit
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close