Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And now we come to the end


I am not worthy.
Some authors, when they talk about their writing process, they make it seem almost doable. Not easy -- don't get me wrong -- but at least something you could emulate with enough practice. I felt like this when I read Stephen King's On Writing, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

Then there are writers like John Irving, the ones whose thought process is more like something Yoda would conjure; an otherworldly power you can't touch. Longtime Leaf Blower reader Daniel Mason sent me this video from the New York Times, about Irving's unusual process for writing novels. Irving says that knows he has a novel when the last sentence comes to him. Not the first sentence, mind you -- the LAST sentence. Once he writes down the last sentence, he says, he never changes it. Not a comma, not a period. Then he works backward from there. It's been that way for all twelve of his sprawling novels.

Watching the video, I thought, wait a minute, maybe his last sentences are written in such a vague, non-committal way that they could easily be written around, massaged, manipulated. So I pulled out a few of his books and turned to the last page. The final sentence of The World According to Garp is "But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases." Okay, fair enough. I can see how that sentence could come to you first, and inspire a book. It could be a first sentence, really. But then I looked at A Prayer for Owen Meany. The last sentence is "O God -- please give him back! I shall keep asking You." What? THAT's what came to him first? THAT's what inspired him to develop one of the most distinctive and memorable characters in modern literature?

When I started writing Double-blind, I didn't have the slightest idea how it would end. But I have a secret. I've been practicing this skill. In fact, before I started this blog post, I knew what the last sentence would be. It just came to me out of the sky, like lightening in a summer storm. And by the time the sound caught up to the flash, I'd already conceived a whole blog post to preface that last, brilliant sentence: and now we come to the end of my blog post -- see you next week.

7 comments:

  1. Toni Morrison said "I start out with an image, even if I don't know how yet how to use it...it is trusting that picture that keeps me going." For me, I think it's a sentence. More accurately, a phrase. But great post. And brilliant, brilliant last sentence!

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  2. What is the last sentence of Double Blind as it stands now?

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  3. It makes me wonder...are all these successful writers natural story-tellers who have honed their writing skills, or are they just writers who have honed their story-telling skills?
    To me, it seems more difficult to be the latter. How do you teach yourself to use your imagination to create a story, much less a last sentence?

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  4. Awesome post Brian, can't wait till the book comes out

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  5. Amy, the last sentence of DB sounds kind of ridiculous out of context, so I won't reveal it!

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  6. Anonymous: I agree; it seems almost impossible to teach yourself to be creative. Of course, I'm finding it's nearly as difficult to teach yourself to write.

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  7. I want the last sentence of double blind and I want it now!

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