Pure Writerly Moments - Part 1 - Gotta Write

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Where am I? Of all places, I find myself in the very last scene of a novel I never finished. I'm with Chester Norris, the elderly author. The one who never made it big. He's from Pittsburgh and he's got a rough edge to him. Back in his glory days he would berate students for their sloppy structure and chastise them for their steadfast ability to bore him. We're both in a nursing home where he's sick, perhaps in his last days.

Who am I? I'm me. I'm Daniel Clausen. (Think 35; struggling to be a writer; wandering the world). But, for some inexplicable reason, I'm also the main character of the book. Some 19-year-old kid who's surfed central Florida waves his entire life -- much smaller than California waves. I'm a college dropout and a residential assistant, hoping to save enough money to move on with my life in some meaningful way.

So, where am I? To sum up, I'm inhabiting the body of a character in the last scene of a dead novel.

Chester looks up at me with disdain, "Stop boring them with internal dialogue! Give them a scene for Christ's sake!"


In this last scene, Chester Norris is trying to make the younger character understand something very important about writing and life.

Chester Norris says to the main character, "Don't you get it? I'm dying. I won't live to be seventy-three and you would think the last things I would want to do before kicking it would be to go see my brother or go traveling to Cuba. Go overseas and see India. Maybe a titty show! But no, I'm trying to finish this damn story. I'm stuck on whether the soldier's wife runs off with her lover or whether they end up never talking to each other. Remember I told you it was the best story I'd ever worked on. Well, that's bullshit! It's probably the worst. The worst piece of smelly shit I've written since I was your age. But I want to finish it because that's what being a writer is. So my advice to you kid—go surfing, fuck your girlfriend, and when you're ready to spend the next fifty years of your life doing what I'm doing now, come see me."

It was a great scene from a novel I could never finish. I'm actually better for not finishing it. I got on with my life. That doesn't mean I stopped writing, it just means I found bigger better things to write.

But an unfinished scene is now where I live. So, I have time to sit and talk with Chester.

"You're back, kid. What gives?"

I can smell hand sanitizer and Lysol.

"Actually," he says. "You don't need to dwell on the physical details. Keep it interesting. That's the only rule of writing that's important."

"Make em' laugh?" I suggest.

"That's not bad either," he says. He gives a cough to dislodge the phlegm from his throat.

"Actually, that one comes from 'Singing in the Rain'."

"Saw that one in the theater if you can believe it."

"I can believe it. But 'Make em' Laugh' isn't the song that typifies my life. It's the long dance number towards the end that is so out of place in the movie. It's Gene Kelly's 'Gotta Dance'. It's a mini-story within the movie that pretty much summarizes his life."

"I remember. No matter the problem, or where he is in life, dance is his one constant." Chester says this with dreamy eyes that seem to recall his youth.

I smile. "And so it is with me, Chester. As soon as I have a problem, what's the first thing I do? I draw up a scene from an unfinished novel and put a character there whom I can consult with. Gotta write, Chester. Gotta, write."

"So," he says, "I suppose that would make me Virgil."

"How's that?"

"I'm supposed to guide you through the many layers of your writing life and show you where it all went wrong. Except you got one detail wrong."

"What's that?"

"I'm bedridden, you dope. And the medicine I just took is about to knock me out for hours."

"I'm sure we can work around that. A writer has to be resourceful."

"You're no writer."

"No, but I used to work in a facility like this. For people who were handicapped."


"And that makes me the authority here."

The person in the room next to Chester's starts screaming. "Pillssssss! Pillsssss!"

Now Chester is worked up. "I swear if I could get up out of this bed, I'd kill him with my bed pan."

I turn on the TV.

"See, plot device! I'll use this TV to show you one of my first pure writerly experiences from when I was in the fourth grade."

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