The Story You Can’t

June 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Edward Hopper, Evening Wind

I had to recommend some how-to books on writing for a client, and since he doesn’t write the same kind of thing I do, that required some research. Naturally none of the books I found was adequate and I was tempted to write my own. But I resisted that. Instead I got interested in the books aimed at people like me, albeit a much younger me, and bought a few on the theory that they would prod me into taking (literary) writing seriously again.

I’ve been reading them slowly. At first they worked to send me back to my unfinished manuscripts with ardor for revision, but that dimmed when I started worrying that I can’t afford right now to become too focused on what doesn’t pay the bills. I can scribble around the edges of my stalled fictions and feel sad, or I can write blog posts. Guess which one I’m doing.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the fantasy novel I’m writing. I like it a lot. But the necessity to keep things happening, to twist the plot in ways that snag and grab is giving me ideas for applying this relentless forward motion to my other stories, where, historically, stasis reigns because, a) what do I know? And, b) those things I know well are not safe for me and perhaps would make you itch to go back to answering your email.

Or perhaps not. Lee K. Abbott says, “Write the story you can’t.” Oh, that one. If books were theater, I could direct how my novels were read: on enormous beds covered in antique brown furs, in the country, on silent winter afternoons, with nothing happening and nothing about to happen.

Until it’s later and your lover hasn’t shown up or called, so you have to eat the whole dinner yourself and read until 3 in the morning, staying awake in case he was arrested, hit on the head, in case he comes staggering in (not bloody at all) and you have to forgive him everything in advance, abandon speech and let the night have you.

I can help you with that.

I Have Become Very Hairy

I have become very hairy all over my body.
I’m afraid they’ll start hunting me because of my fur.

My multicolored shirt has no meaning of love —
it looks like an air photo of a railway station.

At night my body is open and awake under the blanket,
like eyes under the blindfold of someone to be shot.

Restless I shall wander about;
hungry for life I’ll die.

Yet I wanted to be calm, like a mound with all its cities destroyed,
and tranquil, like a full cemetery.

Yehuda Amichai


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