of narcissism and supermen

I think there is something narcissistic about keeping a blog. Maybe that’s necessary in order to keep one. Maybe that’s necessary in order to be a writer.

I was on the road over the weekend, staying at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Chester, Illinois. A bed and breakfast is the only civilized way to travel, and this one was a special treat. An old stone house with exterior walls two feet thick. A view of the mighty Mississippi River roiling past. Miles and miles of Missouri laying out before our window, painted with the morning sun. A wonderful bed and a splendid breakfast. But life called, and we had to leave such a lovely place. If you’re ever in the area and want a recommendation for a place to stay, let me know.

But on to the point of this post.

I’ve spoken here of the tinkering I’ve been doing with a story I’ve called “Superman.” I wasn’t sure if I had brought it to the conclusion it needed. I knew how I wanted it to end, what I wanted to happen at the end, but I didn’t quite know how to say it or if how I’d said it, said it.

Yet sitting in the wonderful bed and breakfast, in the wee small hours where I can get the silence and solitude I need to write, I think I did manage to say it.

It’s a long story, more than 4,700 words, but it’s thoughtful and reflective, and I expect to submit it to those “high-end” journals that publish big-L literature. I don’t think such a length is a concern to them. Whether they will consider it a worthy story, I can’t say. I think it’s well done. I think it achieves what I had set out to do, and I think it is a rewarding read. To be sure, it still needs fine tuning, and I have a specific beta reader in mind whose opinion I value. But I’m nearly there, which is a great feeling, as I’m sure you know.

As a creation of mine, this story has had a comparatively short life. I think I’ve been pondering it for less than a year. It’s the one I think I’ve mentioned here for which I left a cigar to age out at my little cabin in the woods. (I sometimes smoke a cigar when I go to my cabin, but otherwise I am not a smoker at all.) There is a scene in the story where the character comes across a box of old cigars (that were left for years in a cabin in the woods it happens) and decides on impulse to smoke one. I wanted to know what that experience was like: what condition such a cigar would be in, how it might taste, whether it would fall apart, burn fast, so forth. I want to be rigorous in my research after all.

So I checked my visit journal for the cabin and found that I had taken that cigar out there last April. I had done it deliberately to age the cigar under those conditions as story fodder. I smoked it sometime in February (for research purposes, of course). I can’t say that I learned much from the experience. The wrapper did flake off in my fingers. It did burn fast. I did have to spit shredded tobacco from my lips. But that was all stuff I expected to happen.

But my point is that I’ve only had this story knocking around in my little head for about a year, and as I said above, that’s a short time for me. But as I’ve also said here, I’m learning that I can sometimes push myself to work on a story even before I believe it is “ready.” (I suspect I avoid the hard work of writing by claiming a story isn’t “ready” to begin. Do you do this?)

So “Superman” is coming together. I’ve deliberately left Finnegans Deciphered to lie fallow during this time. I need to get some distance from it before I plunge back in for the comprehensive view and review. The flood of notes and fresh ideas I had for it have mostly ceased, which is my sign that I’m done “imagining” a story. I don’t think there will be any fundamental changes to it now. To be sure, it needs plenty of work still to get the tone right in all the right places. And I can probably do a little more (or better) foreshadowing of events to come. More sensory detail. Improved dialogue. The usual stuff.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts, Rants and ruminations, short stories

4 Comments on “of narcissism and supermen”

  1. While there are definitely narcissistic blogs out there — and even more loud writers online — I never saw your blog as narcissistic. I suppose there is a certain narcissism in talking about what one is writing and throwing their thoughts out there. Even a certain narcissism in sharing what works for you with others, especially when one is still finding their way to their writing goals. (I know that’s something I struggle with; sometimes it feels weird.)

    I think a lot of it depends on the person and their intent. I read some blogs that really do intend to share. It’s not all about the writer — even if, in a roundabout way, I suppose it is. I started The Juggling Writer in the hope of forcing myself to keep writing more on my mind. I started it during a time I let my job suck up more time than it should have, and it was an effort to at least say, “No, you don’t win — I will at least keep writing at the front of my mind in the hope that actual progress on bigger things will follow.”

    And it worked.

    I would be lying, though, if I didn’t say it’s something I struggle with — the whole blogging thing. I don’t do it because it’s expected of me as a writer these days, but there are times I definitely think about totally fading away online. Hell, there are times I think about writing novels and stories and never even try submitting them…just let people close to me read them, or have my only online presence be a page with everything available for free. No way to contact me, just a bunch of free stories.

    At the same time, I like reading what other writers are up to. Yours is a handful of writing blogs I look forward to reading; in part, because you talk about yourself and what you’re doing more than some blogs. I now know that between the area where my wife’s family lives and St. Louis, just on the other side of the river, is a very nice bed and breakfast. And I like knowing there are writers out there who still roll story ideas around in their heads for a long time. (With shorter fiction, I’m one of those people who get an idea and crank it out. I’ve only once done that with a novel, and it was apparent.)

    Little things, like letting a cigar sit for a long time…these are things so many people don’t think about. Most people I’ve worked with over the years move through life just working and watching TV. Maybe there is something narcissistic about keeping a blog, but I’m glad people like you do.

  2. Sonje Says:

    Your story about the cigar–letting it age so that you could be accurate in your description of what smoking such a cigar would be like when you wrote about it and then finding out that it was as you’d imagined it–reminds me of John Irving’s novel, A Widow for One Year. It’s been quite a long time since I read it. Ten years maybe? But I remember that the protagonist is a woman writer, and she writes a novel in which the husband of her protagonist dies, and the protagonist grieves heavily for one year and then feels better (not perfect, but not completely distraught anymore). The writer gets all this flack from her fans about how the writer doesn’t know anything about grieving for a spouse because she never has so she shouldn’t write about it. Then the the writer’s husband dies, and she goes through the grieving process, and at the end of a year, so feels better, and she realizes that she had been able to imagine what the protagonist in her novel would experience even though she hadn’t experienced it for herself when she’d written the novel.

    And that’s what I thought about when I read this blog post. 🙂 Congrats on getting a firm hold on your short story. I very rarely get short stories ideas, but when I do, I find writing them to be extremely satisfying.

  3. Paul Lamb Says:

    Christopher – even more amazing when you consider that I am a very private person. I’m astonished that I keep a blog at all, much less that I share any private information about myself on it. I am often tempted to “fade away online” as you termed it. But I guess my point about the narcissism is that it is, in some way, necessary to being a writer of any kind. You have to feel what you’re saying is interesting to bother with the effort of doing it.
    Sonje – I don’t know if I should be flattered or intimidated that you thought of John Irving when you read my post. I’ll go with flattered though. Imagination is a powerful thing, especially when coupled with a few decades of experience. (Regarding that cigar experience, I had also spent some time in the cigar store chatting with the men there about just what an aged cigar would be like to smoke. They had suggested some of the details as likely; I merely confirmed them as true. But talking to knowledgeable people is as valid a form of research as anything.

  4. Averil Dean Says:

    “I think there is something narcissistic about keeping a blog. Maybe that’s necessary in order to keep one. Maybe that’s necessary in order to be a writer.”

    Painful, but true.

    I’m always impressed with the amount of time you take with your work, how careful and considered your approach appears to be.
    Someday I may learn patience, but I always feel as though I’m playing catch up, having started so late in the game.

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