The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Digging Up Bones, pt. 2

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When I started this serial last September 12, I promised there would be more to come.  I didn’t think it would take me 4 months to deliver.  So in case you don’t feel like digging back through The Seeker (and damn you for not feeling like it!), the gist of the matter is that I started writing a short story, “Anthropology,” rather spontaneously last spring.  I got frustrated and put it away, and then stumbled on it last fall and thought it didn’t look all that bad.  I decided to give it another go.  I cranked out two complete drafts.  The process of starting like a house on fire, burying the story, redisovering it, and rebuilding it helped me recognize my fiction writing pattern.

I had actually been planning on doing a lot of work on the story, especially over Christmas.  I figured I needed to sit down with someone at a local Starbucks and do some interviewing.  It seemed integral to the story since it takes place at a Starbucks.  I wanted to sound authentic.  But that interview never happened.  I went in to talk to someone one day, but the place was busy and she never got around to me.  So I bolted, figuring I would try again later.  I thought I would do it during our recent work stoppage at school, but that didnt’ work out, either.  Then I figured I’d wait around until I found time.


I read this totally awesome dystopian war story in The New Yorker two weeks ago, “A Brief Encounter With the Enemy.”  I was stunned at how great it was.  In fact, I found it so totally awesome that I read it twice and had a lengthy discussion about it with a colleague.  Then I read an interview with the author, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh.  He talked about the boredom behind being totally faithful to current events, and how too many recognizable facts and details can interfere with storytelling.  He mentioned that it is evocation that excites him more, and how artists can often get at something deeper if they approach their subjects obliquely.  The lightbulb in my head clicked on.  I realized that my story doesn’t have to be set exactly in a Starbucks, and that I had spent far too much time being fixated on that and worrying about how I would fit authentic Starbucks details into my story.

I sat down for several hours last weekend and wrote a second draft that generalized the cafe experience.  And while I was feeling editorial, I took the story out of Chicago entirely, settling instead on a general urban setting.  The more I worked at it, the better I started to feel about where the story was going.  I worked more on the story Sunday morning, mostly beefing up an anorexic scene that screamed “lazy writing!” when I read over it.  Now I’m considering two more tweaks before I send it to some friends.  I’m eager to hear what they think.

Finally, I have realized I was committing a Writer’s Sin.  I was moping around and waiting for something to happen with my story rather than asserting myself and looking for solutions.  I wasn’t even experimenting with solutions.  It’s the same thing I would henpeck my students for doing.  So why do I let myself get away with it?  Thankfully, not all my common sense as a writer was lost.  I was still reading and thinking about other work by established writers, and that ended up making a big difference in what I’m doing with “Anthropology.”

Written by seeker70

January 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] put the story away.  I went back at it, put it down again for a short time, and resumed work after inspiration hit me via another short story I […]

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