In my early thirties I saw myself as a Hemingwayesque realist. My material: the time I'd spent working in the oil fields of Asia. I wrote story after story out of that material, and everything I wrote was minimal and strict and efficient and lifeless and humor-free, even though, in real life, I reflexively turned to humor at any difficult or important or awkward or beautiful moment.
I had chosen what to write, but I couldn't seem to make it live...
Having gone about as high up Hemingway Mountain as I could go, having realized that even at my best I could only ever hope to be an acolyte up there, resolving never again to commit the sin of being imitative, I stumbled back down into the valley and came upon a little shit-hill labeled "Saunders Mountain."
"Hmm," I thought. "It's so little. And it's a shit-hill."
Then again, that was my name on it.
This is a big moment for any artist (this moment of combined triumph and disappointment), when we have to decide whether to accept a work of art that we have to admit we weren't in control of as we made it and of which we are not entirely sure we approve. It is less, less than we wanted it to be, and yet it's more, too - it's small and a bit pathetic, judged against the work of the great masters, but there it is, all ours.
What we do at that point, I think, is go over, sheepishly but boldly, and stand on our shit-hill, and hope it will grow.
And - to belabor this already questionable metaphor - what will make that shit-hill grow is our commitment to it, the extent to which we say, "Well, yes, this is a shit-hill, but it's my shit hill, so let me assume that if I continue to work in this mode that is mine, this hill will eventually stop being made of shit, and will grow, and from it, I will eventually be able to see (and encompass in my work) the whole of the world."
- George Saunders, from his essay "The Heart of the Story" in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.