As a farm boy, I was a spectacular failure. I wandered off from my chores, lost in imagination, mumbling to myself as I walked in circles. Today such a child would be drugged and counseled. My parents, however, let me roam; one of the paths I trod through a patch of weeds is still weedless to this day – nothing ever grew to cover my steps. Today, I pace as I write fiction, with my laptop propped on a fat dictionary atop the kitchen counter. I mutter aloud, considering the rhythms of words, performing lines of dialogue. I do have a writing desk in a writing room but I do no writing there. I need to be up and about fussing with things, my stories coming together on the sly. For me, I guess, writing must always involve wandering away from chores, and it must never become the chore itself.
Whether you’re a writer or not, you’re developing your own art of moving from point to point.
A teacher once accused me of wanting to avoid “the dog work” of writing fiction. She said I didn’t put enough effort in moving the characters from point A to point B – she said I just wanted to jump from one vivid detail to the next. She was right, and she meant to scold, but I found myself inclined to rebel. Why must a character be moved from point A to point B? Why must there even be a point A and a point B at all? Of course I eventually came to understand that plot and technique didn’t have to muddle the art of the thing. But I remain baffled by those writers who consider fiction an obligation. (A novelist I once knew even likened writing to “factory work.”) And I’ve always found it curious that one is said to “indulge” the imagination, as if the imagination was too pleasurable to politely allow. Imagination and creativity guide your every move — you’re not just relying on your intellect and your sentiment to navigate your days; you’re inventing your own character as you go along, devising a kind of mythology based on all the aspects of your own spirit, and sense, and gesture, your daily tasks, your loves, your frustrations. Whether you’re a writer or not, you’re developing your own art of moving from point to point.
Please join us for (downtown) omaha lit fest on Sept 12-13 for literary readings, panel discussions, and an opening night party. “Like” us on Facebook (Omaha Lit Fest) or visit www.omahalitfest.com.
Timothy Schaffert is the author of five novels, most recently The Swan Gondola, set among the humbug artists and theatrical types of turn-of-the-century Omaha. His work has been a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, an Oprah.com Book of the Week, and recognized in the O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories anthologies. Novelist Kurt Andersen called Schaffert a “master of Great Plains gothic” on his public radio program Studio 360; on the NPR program On Point, Paul Ingram said “[Schaffert] is an Omaha writer the way Faulkner is a Mississippi writer – he has a deep historical connection to the area, and you learn so much.” Schaffert grew up on a farm in Nebraska; he lives in Omaha and is a professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is founder/director of (downtown) omaha lit fest, to be held Sept 12-13, 2014 at W. Dale Clark Library. www.omahalitfest.com