“You really don’t know?” my step-sister asked.

“How am I supposed to know anything? You were just gone,” I said. We sat in her room. The door was shut but we could hear her mother’s voice from my dad’s room. It wasn’t their bedroom. My step-mother slept in the bed next to the pool table on the other side of the house.

“God, you can be stupid,” she said. “Where do you think we went?”

I shrugged. We were 14. Our parents had married five years earlier, and every few months my step-mother and my step-sister disappeared. I’d come home from school and they’d be gone. A few months later they’d come back. I usually didn’t know where they went. I didn’t ask–asking questions was asking to be lied to.

Maybe the less we said her name, the less my dad would think about her.

“I don’t know where you went,” I said to my step-sister and wished I could surprise her with insider knowledge. She always knew more than me even though I got better grades.

She rolled her eyes. “She runs off with men,” she said, flinging her hair behind her shoulder. “Men she meets at the truck stop. We come back when the money runs out.”

I don’t know why this had never occurred to me.

I write a story or make a picture and am certain I am missing something. The work is not complete, but I can’t see what it needs. If read the right book or took the right class, I’d know. I’d have that insider knowledge.

What training or special knowledge do you think a writer or artists needs? Are you born with the sense of story or do you have to learn it?

9 thoughts on “Clueless

  1. If I knew the answer to that, I’d go out and buy the knowledge!

    Seriously, though, I think it’s a combination of learning a craft and also having an intuition for what makes a good story. And being sensitive enough to understand different kinds of people and what makes them human….a psychologist of sorts. Because a writer needs to make their characters come alive.

  2. The only thing I think you are missing as a writer and artist is faith in yourself.

    That may be one of the necessary components. That and stubborness, never giving up, dog with a bone, pain in the ass. Oh, and curiosity, willingness to go down that path, to wonder, to wander, to discover.

    As for sense of story? That can be developed. And I never feel like your stories are missing anything. They feel complete. Although, with this one, for the first time, I wondered if you had been thinking of writing a memoir.

    I think sometimes you mistake your own subtlety, delicacy and quiet with incompleteness. By quiet, I mean the space within the words you leave. That’s where I live when I read your stories, and where I feel. and where I know the characters.

    There is also room to pull these bad boys together into a book.

  3. Training: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to imagine how training will help somebody past a certain age. Maybe training in the “business” side — querying and such?

    (OTOH, having said that, I can immediately think of numerous professional courses I wouldn’t mind taking, especially in things like “how to motivate your characters” and “including just enough but not too many characters” and “storytelling vs. writing” and “overwriting vs. underwriting” and “digging your plot out of the hole you’ve buried it in.”)

    Special knowledge, though, hmm… Maybe not knowledge as such. Maybe more like particular… bents? affinities?

    Now you’re going to ask me what bents or affinities I’m talking about, aren’t you?

  4. shelli, I can never reconcile my idea about a writer as a psychologist (of sorts) with about how some great writers are jerks.

    rowena, I’ve entertained the notion of pulling these things together for a book, but don’t know where to start-or where to find the time.

    JES, I’m not asking, but you could tell me if you are so inclined. And yes, I changed the image.

    Squirrel, I’m glad the laundry is involved, because I can’t get rid of the damn laundry anyway.

  5. I think artists live outside the norm, even as they live ordinary lives.
    However, If they are too far out there, fewer people can relate to the art they create. Too far in, and their art has nothing new to offer.
    A necessary sense of solitude, detachment and urgency to express all come into play. And courage. Writers need a sense of story, yes, but I think some of that can be learned- by writing, reading, from good teachers, from living a life in engaged in one’s own, and other peoples’ stories.

  6. Sarah, I like that idea that artist can live outside the norm even if they live ordinary lives. Oh, there are so many things to do to get a story on the page!

    Now D’Arcy, you know that begs the question–what happened last year?

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