I went to the library and looked for advice on making my writing better. Instead, I found Eudora Welty’s brilliant — and terrifying — image of Neanderthal storytelling. If this doesn’t give you writer’s block, I’d like your fearless psyche, please:
“Neanderthal man listened to stories, if one may judge by the shape of his skull. The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the campfire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or woolly-rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.”
I am an apprentice writer. Other writers tell me what to do. How to write a short story, the novel and its counterparts, on writing the short story, on writing, the art of fiction, et cetera. Sometimes they are helpful. And other times, they get me wishing that I don’t see any nightmares that night because the only fate worse than being killed for your art is having your audience fall asleep.
I admire beautiful sentences. They make me jealous. I want to rip sentences from books and let nobody see how much better Margaret Atwood’s are than mine. One thing I’ve done is shorten mine. Hemmingway-style. It’s great. Gets rid of garrulity. Makes me less annoying.
Aside from mere run-ons though, I struggle to explain long ideas. Some sentences are easy to pare down to Subject, verb, whoop you’re done. And then you get sentences that have a Wikipedia inside them. How do you get it all into one readable thing?
The goal today was to write one good sentence.
As my complicated idea, I chose a book with the word “Women” written upside-down on it. “Women” sits on my desk at the agency. The book makes me feel better about myself in times of creative despair.
Here is how I expressed my relationship with “Women” in one sentence, five times over (these are horrible, by the way):
A book about women made Sasha full of self-esteem
- Woah! Full of self-esteem! Next.
A book about women filled Sasha with the knowledge that she was no different from the artistic people in life
- Expressing the idea in too many words
The artist’s long hair had as much effect on the artist’s self-esteem as did Sasha’s book on her desk
Sasha knew that she was no different from the artist she saw every day at work
- Good sentence, but where did “Women” go?
Sasha knew that the artist’s long hair had as much effect on his self-esteem as the book that she kept under her computer at work had on hers
- Healthy. But not dazzling.
Fifth attempt, and I was tired of looking at my Women book and at the long-haired artist next to me. I wrote a sentence that just worked and called it quits:
I pity anyone who writes in the wrong genre
Have a great day.