Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dear English 398

Your professor and I go way back. Let me tell you about your professor. One time she and I were at this bar and –

Sorry. Forgetting myself here. On to business.

I'm tempted just now to use a fancy term to describe the writing of 'flash,' as people call it. Like all such terms, it loses in exactitude whatever it might gain in sex appeal, but I'll go ahead and use it: the art of the dive.

Whatever could I mean by this? Let's see.

For readers, the full-length short story might offer immersion, twenty minutes, half an hour's worth. This accords w/ that dictum of Poe's that you've all probably read at some point or at least heard about: the short story has to be readable in one sitting. What this doesn't accord with, at least in most cases, is the experience of writing a full-length story. It takes time. It takes some people (wince) a lot longer than it does others, but it takes time, and because of that many of the writers I know are liable to think of full-length stories as an investment, one that is made hopefully but that entails (sorry for the unpleasant terminology) risk.

I'm just about to arrive at some kind of point here. Hang on!

If you're a writer, and you're going to invest time in something you know from the outset might fail, there's going to be a temptation: work more carefully! Keep your eyes open! Catch mistakes before they kill you! But here's the problem. The part of your brain you stimulate when you urge yourself to take care is not the part of your brain that writes good fiction. (This might be one explanation for what people call 'writer's block'….)

So. A dilemma. For me at least, the very short story is one way out. It's a dive. An escape from the daylight of my brain, from my plans and ambitions, etc. Swoosh, I'm in the water. And I know that I'll be back up soon – so the investment-risk thing doesn't apply.

Yes, the analogy is cloying…. We'll leave it behind.

I'll say this: I think some of my own best stuff is very short stuff. In that category one of my personal favorites is a story that I wrote on a day when I was busy and not technically 'writing.' I was busy, as I say, but when I had a second at one point I read a short by Lydia Davis. I'm embarrassed not to recall the title just now, but I loved it. I wasn't sure why I loved it. I didn't immediately see what made it a story. But I loved it as fiction, and when I set it down my blood was fizzing. I wanted to write something, you know. And so I did. What I wrote hadn't been an 'idea' in advance -- or an image, a 'kernel,' any of that. It had been nothing.

Of course this is all simplified. I'm not suggesting, for example, that with shorts there's no rewrites (stuff in the first paragraph of the one I just mentioned ended up in the last paragraph of the final version). I'm not suggesting…..

Oh enough of this. You see what I'm suggesting, right?

Happy writes, all. Bedevil her for me,



Laura Ellen Scott said...

Beautiful, Scott. Thanks so much. Know anyone else who wants to teach my class for me? could put "Guest Lecturer" on the vita.

DOGZPLOT said...

laura - i'll gladly teach your class, just pay me what you get paid and we're all set.

Laura Ellen Scott said...

no problem. I get paid in copies, usually. oh, you mean for teaching . . .

DOGZPLOT said...

yep. i mean the teacher pay...

Scott Garson said...

let's not get carried away
about teacher pay
have to say
I'd rather have a roll in the hay
any old day

DOGZPLOT said...

true true.. but i doubt laura is up for that. so i at least have to get something.

scott. i downloaded all the songs from that playlist. except for that betsy roo song. i cant find it. once i do i can put them all on cd's and then i dont know what. but i will have the cd's waiting for you to tell me what to do with them. if thats ok with you of course. let me know.

Laura Ellen Scott said...

sigh. (choose your favorite inflection). algonquin round table banter this ain't.

Scott Garson said...

Dorothy Parker was a pain in the ass....

lorax said...

thanks for the advice!
-owen from laura's 398 class this semester