Stories used to inform us about humanity. One might read about lions in Africa and it’d be about the human condition in some sick, twisted way. Today’s stories have become glorious spectacles with the implication of relevance but no true depth, like a cocktail that’s all umbrellas and no juice. That’s a good thing, because it’s much easier to purchase mini-umbrellas than to learn how to mix drinks properly.
So go ahead and write about smoking pot and how that guy you’re sleeping with probably doesn’t love you. Who cares if it’s just a series of sensations ordered to have the appearance of a narrative? Just call it post-modern. Call it stream-of-consciousness. Call it free verse. Call it personal narrative. If you have trouble writing extensively, call it anecdote.
Don’t worry about saying anything bigger than your beer gut. Write from your life and about your life. Start with the here and now. Write about this very moment. About how you’re reading a writing advice blog because you’re too scared to start writing yourself. About how you’re distracting yourself from the real work you need to get done, because you know that once that work is done, you’ll have to face your purposelessness on this planet. And if you’re depressed and closing this tab to explore happier realms, write about how you’re tumbling through imgur and reddit like they’re the endless tales of Sherazade. Write about how you’re probably going to die without accomplishing anything. And even if you were given the chance, a couple hundred years of healthy living, you probably still wouldn’t be a great writer.
Why is all of this important? Honesty is the first step in telling a good story. So go look at yourself in a mirror and be honest. Note the pimples, the moles, the awkward ears, the unexplained peeling. The acne snuggling beneath your skin like ocean polyps. Have you gained a few pounds? Is your hair receding? Are you ugly even when you look your best?
What you’re seeing are the concrete details of your existence; the facts that everyone sees. These are your descriptions, which you should take pride in even when they disgust others.
Once you learn to see the cracks in your face, you’ll be able to see the cracks in your own writing. Even a quick skim will make you want to throw up. In fact, you’ll know you’ve made it when you wake up late in the night, panting and sweating, and you begin tearing apart your latest short story. Your significant other will ask what’s wrong, and you’ll push him/her away, maybe head into the bathroom to look at yourself in the mirror. You’ll pound a fist into the grotesque mask that responds you in an attempt to free yourself of its burden.
Can you see death in that face? The leering skull, hidden by folds of fat and well mostly fat? The portent signs, the end of things, and with it the suddenness and inevitability of your last gasp on earth?
Good! You’re well on your way!