Michelle Wittle On Narrowing Down the Right Story

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

For the past couple of months, I have been having a very difficult time trying to focus on what I should be writing about. On day I want to research ghost stories. The next day I think I should be reworking my novel. Two days later I think I should be working on a memoir. I am literally all over the place and because of the scattering, nothing is getting done.

When I get like this, I start reading books. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finish the book and, who knows, maybe I will finally be completely inspired.

A friend of mine suggested I read “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. Because it deals with a budding writer looking for his literary place, my friend thought this book would help me settle into my writer self.

So far, I have only read six of the nineteen chapters and I have to tell you, my friend is absolutely right. This book is really amazing.

I just finished reading this one chapter called, “In the City Where Marcus Aurelius Died” and if I were teaching a college level creative writing class, I would make sure this chapter was in the mix somewhere.

The whole novel is about Garp and his mother. In this chapter, he just graduated from high school and she decides to move them both to Vienna. She wants to become a writer as does her son. They are both struggling through the first writer’s attempt at writing. She has a six hundred page manuscript that is boring and devoid of any real story telling. Garp can’t figure out what he wants to write about, so his coping skill is to explore the city. In the library across from their apartment, there is a writer’s room. It belonged to a 19th century poet who, in Garp’s mind, was a horrific poet. Because Garp can see how horrible this poet was, it helps him get inspired to become a better writer. This discovery acts as his inspiration.

Garp writes a very detailed and interesting story. However at the end of the chapter, he has no idea how to end the story. He knows that somehow something must happen and things should be connected; yet, he has no idea what should happen and what he should connect.

I love how in the chapter there are two people both in the early stages of writing. Each person is trying to find his or her voice and how to make his or her story worth reading. Both struggle with character development and plot.

Also, I like how Garp is able to look at published authors mentioned in this chapter and evaluate for himself their literary merits. Garp is picking and choosing what kind of author he wants to be by finding what works and doesn’t work in these previously published pieces.

Am I inspired yet to write my story (which ever one it may be)?

Not yet, but I am inspired to continue reading this “manual for writers” because just like Garp, I can pick out the things I like and toss out the things that don’t work for me.

As I continue with this novel, I will keep you updated on my findings. If you are like me, a lost story teller with too many stories to tell, I suggest a small break is in order for you. Wander down to your local bookstore, pick up “The World According to Garp” and let Garp guide you on your road to writer discovery.


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