If it does, if this book goes the way the others have gone, I’ll enter the second phase that Alice McDermott describes. I’ll know what I’m doing. I’ll have a sense of the arc of the story, as the phrase has it, and I’ll gain a hazy notion of how it will all end. The tale will stop wandering. I’ll learn why I picked this set of individuals or, perhaps more accurately, why this set of characters emerged from the obscurity that is my writing brain.
And then what? McDermott’s certainty that she “knows exactly what she’s doing and should not be doing it” is disturbing. Taken in a benign sense, I suppose it could mean that the story has decided to head down an artistic dead end. This might be true even if the tale were a page-turner, for many stories that are compelling are nonetheless forgettable. We enjoy the ride, but once we’re off the bus, the thrill is gone. Like sporting events or many films, the value of such books never rises above entertainment. And that’s not bad, but it may give rise to authorial certainty that one ought not be making exactly that tale.
Having the sense that one is one the wrong track, however, may mean that the entire story making enterprise is empty, a darker prospect. The fun in story telling, as in story reading, is finding out what happens next. For the reader, that often takes you right to the end. The writer however, as McDermott suggests, knows what’s up. Writers may start in the dark, but they finish in the light of day and knowing how it’s all going to work out also means that the fun, or much of it, is over. And so, why push forward? The world is glutted with stories. And now, with the advent of electronic publication and the democratic Kindle, anyone who can buy a computer and follow directions, can be a writer and published to boot. Maybe we should quit. Maybe writing stories is not at all what we should be doing. I think of that. Maybe my time would be better spent volunteering at the local wildlife center or supporting sensible candidates for public office, activities that might show positive results, rewards of a concrete sort.
Maybe. On the other hand, I tell myself and I think this point of view is as correct as its opposite, the world does need stories. What comes to us from past are, in part, the stories. Out of the thick matrix of individuals making art rises, in every era, those novels or plays, paintings or music that, for whatever reason, last. These become our ways of understanding who we were, where we came from, and who we are. These are the “documents” that shape our collective and individual imagination and help us comprehend our own experience, which is always a daunting task for each of us. I know it is doubtful that anything I create will last, be remembered, rise to august heights, but what I produce, whatever it’s value, is part of the mix, part of the matrix of our time, the soil, so to speak, of our years.
I don’t know how great works emerge. I think that process might be as mysterious as the emergence of character and plot in any individual writer’s work. But I think it fair to say that unless writers and other artists push through, finish the job, and get the work into the world, we will have no opportunities for anything to emerge at all.
My “emergencies” can be found at http://www.amazon.com/David-Donavel/e…