Stories Come From Everywhere

9 Feb

This blog might as well be titled ‘Stories Come From Nowhere.’ Either is as good an answer to “Where do you get your ideas?”

Though I sometimes shrug and say: I buy them by the case lot at CostCo.

Writers have an odd view of the world, or more precisely, they view the world as odd. Everything seems slightly out of kilter, in need of explaining, or, simply, difficult to cope with. Everything seems like a question waiting to be answered.

Sometimes, the oddness of the world comes from within ourselves. We feel out of kilter; we struggle to cope. We need to explain. It, perhaps, accounts for why so many writers wrestle with self-doubt, with alcohol, with relationships, with the sheer unending oppression (and boredom) of everyday life. Story is a natural — if not easy — outlet.

Not every writer is a basket case (in fact few are, writing is too damn hard for people — other than Proust — who can’t get out of bed to face the day). I know plenty who are happy, well-adjusted, optimistic and stable, if such a description truly fits anyone. They look at the world and question why it’s not a better place or at least a different place. Despite their own inner peace, they have a heightened sense of outrage at the inequities of the world. They are aggrieved — if not about their own lives than about the lives of those around them. Not do-gooders, exactly, but think-gooders.

 This is not about being liberal or conservative — it is about moral complexity.

Regardless of type, I think writers all possess an intense curiosity. They want to know why. Why is that person on the park bench crying (too shy to ask, they instead confabulate a story)? Why are some types of people treated better than others? Why did that person die; why did that other one risk her life; why is the sky blue and the grass green? And why leads to what if or if only. How did things come to be this way and how might they change?

The best writers have also, as Hemingway put it, developed a built-in bullshit detector. It has to be built-in, of course, because the first place you will find bullshit is within your own thinking. Finding emotional truth is the first step in making a story truer than if it had actually happened.

There is no shortage of crap in the external world either and writers, once they learn to stop lying to themselves (about their feelings, their desires, their weaknesses, their fears, their abilities) can shine Diogenes’ lamp on other things: the embedded lies of society, the duplicity of lovers, the falseness of easy answers to hard questions.

This questioning restless curiosity, this insistence on honesty does not make for a comfortable life. It is uncomfortable for writers and for those who surround them. It can break relationships. Sometimes it is too hard. Sometimes you simply want to turn it off; sometimes you can.

It is not a trait confined to writers, of course; artists of all kinds, scientists, politicians — all are driven by this curiosity about the world and by this sense of wrongness that pervades their moral sense. What distinguishes writers is their chosen method of figuring it all out: story.

So when writers say they have to write what they are really saying is they are in a fight with the world and their only weapons are words.

Hope I didn’t trigger any bullshit detectors.

News of the Week

E-book prices may fall 20% in wake of Competition Bureau settlement

Bundoran writers coming to Ottawa and Toronto

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