How to Write a Short Story

How to Write a Short Story

for Rob

I am writing a short story right now…or at least trying to. It’s 3 A.M., and in exactly seven hours my story is due. I used to have the vain impression that I was a clutch writer. I have learned tonight that this is wrong. I do not perform well under time’s pressure. I am staring at a blank computer screen right now. I can’t think of an idea. I have turned to music for inspiration. I am listening to U2’s, Where the Streets Have No Name. This isn’t helping though. In fact it’s making matters worse. I am now distracted. I have a knot on my right thigh. My left foot is slightly larger than my right. I have had a cough for three weeks straight. Maybe these are all evidence of an impending disease. Maybe cancer. I hear it’s bad. I don’t think I’ll make it through the night. I am hitting my head with my left hand. Maybe this will help me concentrate.

Ideas shouldn’t be this hard to come by, should they? I am a writer. This is what I want to do. This should come easy. I remember reading a short story about a bowl. The bowl was supposed to be symbolic of something, but I can’t remember the details. I thought the story was pretty interesting though. My professor says a writer should be able to make any topic interesting. Maybe I can write about a piece of string. Maybe the string can be symbolic of space and time and the creation of all existence. No! That is absurd. I don’t want to write about a bowl or a piece of string. I want to write something real.

I am flipping in my notes to a page of quotes and silently reading one aloud. “If a gun is introduced in the first act, it must go off by the final curtain.” I have not written down the author of this, but I know who it is because it is my professor’s favorite writer. The first day of class, my professor had all of us circle our desks together and tell the class our favorite authors. My professor said his was Anton Chekhov. I was being especially honest that day, so when it got around to my turn I announced to the class, “I have no favorite author.”

“You think you can come into a class of writing and not have a favorite author?” my professor said, “How do expect to create work of your own when you can’t acknowledge another’s? Get out of my class.”
So I left. Later that day I went to his office and apologized.

“Don’t apologize, I know you were just trying to be different,” he said.

“No I was being serious professor,” I told him.

“Then why are you apologizing?” he asked.

“I just thought that’s what you wanted to hear sir,” I said. He rose from his desk and circled the room. Surrounding the room in several rows of his office are picture stills and portraits of famous authors. He pointed to them and said over his shoulder, “The minute you declare your interest in writing, you thrust yourself into this group.” I looked at the pictures lining the wall. Dante, Emerson, Elliot, Dostoyevsky, Coleridge, Wolfe, any renowned author you could think of was there. But they all looked so sad. In all the pictures they were either frowning or scowling. I looked at Mark Twain’s picture. He had a pipe in the corner of his mouth and he was sitting profile, but he looked angry—almost as if the pipe he was smoking tasted foul. I thought at that moment I wouldn’t want to be on someone’s wall, looking sad or angry. My professor interrupted my thoughts, “Don’t be intimidated son; we all have to start somewhere…even them. Do you remember the name of my class?” I withdrew my class schedule.

“ENG 2120 sir,” I said.

“No son, the title of the class, not the course number,” he replied sitting back at his desk. I looked at my schedule—I couldn’t find a title. I was actually panicking, perusing the schedule line by line. My professor answered his own question,

“The name of my class is How to Write a Short Story.” I was so disappointed I hadn’t discovered the name before he told me I didn’t respond.

“My class will delineate essential techniques that have been proven to be effective and were used by all the greats you see behind me. They too had to learn these techniques at one point. So like I said before, don’t be intimidated. This is only the beginning. But don’t get any wild fantasies that writing is easy. It’s a long and arduous journey to become a writer—not meant for the faint of heart. Take my class only if you have genuine intentions of being a writer, else you disgrace yourself as well as them.”

I looked at the many sullen faces on the wall, and then at my professor. I told him I wanted to be a writer. Satisfied he had helped, my professor went back to his book, but I still stood there in front of his desk. I remember when I used to have arguments with my mom when I was younger—after we were finished and she had convinced me of my wrong, I would just wait there, expecting something more. That’s what it felt like in his office. My professor looked up from his book. He smiled awkwardly.

“Yes?” my professor asked.

“There are times sir when I am writing a story and for some reason or another I have a lot of trouble. What can I do about that?” I asked.

“We will cover all the necessary ground in due time,” he said with a finality in his voice. I turned around to leave, but again I stopped. This time my professor was prepared.

“I have work to do son, anything else I can answer for you quickly?” he asked.

“Sir I know you will cover all the ground, but there has to be a secret to writing besides just techniques and rules. What is the secret?” My professor scrunched his face.

“The techniques you just dismissed son are the foundation of every good writer. Make your writing smoother by keeping in mind the techniques. If you get yourself in trouble just open The Art of Fiction, it’s required in my class for a reason—good, helpful stuff.”

I am holding in my hands The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner. Where The Streets Have No Name has just ended, leaving me now with 6 hours, and 52 minutes to complete a finished short story. I am staring at John Gardner’s book, tracing the bold title with my fingers. I am opening the book at random—page 42—my eyes immediately focus on a sentence I had previously highlighted:

“And nothing can be made of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer.”

I like this sentence. I want to garner the reader’s interest while simultaneously invoking emotion in myself. This is good. I am thinking of childhood: I remember my first kiss, under the handle-bars at my daycare playground. This makes me think of my first lie: at my babysitter’s house—I said I hadn’t sneaked a piece of cake—deception, a good emotion. I remember my first fight—it was a rather painful defeat—pain, also a good emotion. Love, deception, pain; I am getting somewhere. I close my book, and I let my fingers dance across the keyboard in startling repetition. I have my first sentence! My computer screen reads.

“As a child, Jeremy experienced trials through love, deception, and pain.”

I am leaning back in my chair—my face is crushed under my hands. What did I just write? That’s not what I wrote. What I wrote was articulate, profound—it was of vital concern to me! This is the worst introductory sentence I have ever seen. What happened there? I am better than that. Gardener would have spit in my face. I see my professor in his office. He is staring at me with utter contempt, joined by his wall of scowling, condescending faces.

I have the wrong approach. I need a different course of action. I am playing the game of word association with myself. I am writing the first word that comes to mind—my computer screen reads: COLLEGE. I am looking over my computer and at my sleeping roommate: his name is Mark. He is an engineer major. He has horrific taste in music. He mumbles. He has a habit of responding to every comment I make with, “What?”

This is mildly interesting. Unfortunately Mark doesn’t have the charisma to encompass an entire story…unless he was somehow decapitated in his sleep. The police arrive the next morning with vague rumors of a college kid and his severed head—they arrive to confirm the rumors, but are unable to determine the whereabouts of his roommate…again I let my fingers roam freely. My computer reads:

“One night Mark, a college freshmen, is decapitated by his roommate in his sleep.”

I am looking at the screen in complete disbelief. I am hitting my desk repeatedly with my right fist. I am yelling every profanity I can think of in alphabetical order. This has roused Mark. He is grumpily rearranging his blankets and flipping to face the window but manages one croaky, mumbled word, “What?”

My right hand hurts. Word association has failed me. I am thinking about my classmates. They have probably breezed through this story. I am picturing them at one of the many party locations on campus—holding their completed manuscripts in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. One of my classmates is taking shots, and yelling in a gargled voice,

“And I have phenomenal character development! My story is of interest to the reader and of vital concern to myself! Can you believe I did both?”

Where am I going wrong? I need to look at this in a logical, coherent manner. There is a reasonable explanation for any fault. I am struggling because…why? I am not meant to be a writer. There’s an explanation—granted a pathetic, self-piteous explanation, but nonetheless explanatory. I remember my professor citing his chief rule in class, show don’t tell. Maybe this is where my first two attempts went awry. I need to show Mark’s head being torn from his neck instead of merely reciting the event like some newspaper headline. I would write this again but I no longer have any affection towards such an outlandish concept. I want to write something real. I want to avoid spectacular plotlines. I remember when I was in high school I had a habit of watching Twilight Zone episodes. It was sometime in between a marathon I decided I wanted to write like Rod Sterling. Every story I wrote had one constant characteristic—a twist ending. After discovering there are only so many variations of life within a coma, I vowed to never again touch the hem of the extraordinary storyline’s garment.

I have just made an epiphany. I have discovered the source of my troubles—fatigue. This can only be solved by two things, one of which I cannot freely choose. This leaves me with only one option: caffeine.

I am driving in my car, on my way to the local mart to get some coffee. I now have 5 hours and 26 minutes left. The night is cold. My car doesn’t have a working heater. I would be thinking of my story but instead I’m dwelling on the fact that I’m cold. Accompanying me on this trip is The Art of Fiction, bookmarked and stationary next to me in the front seat. I turn the radio on. I am listening to a classical station. I recognize the piece, primarily because I played a simplified version when I was younger during a brief stint at piano lessons: Debussy’s Clair De Lune

I am staring out my window and watching the landscape steadily pass. I am on College Street. This is the central location of parties and mayhem at the university, yet no one is out tonight. Everyone seems prepared, anticipating the morning in a deep, peaceful slumber. I am thinking of them, not as a whole, but individually. Everyone in college attends for separate reasons. The powers to be have conveniently broken down these reasons and called them majors. My major is classified as Creative Writing, but why am I really here? Is Creative Writing really a passion of mine, or have I chosen it simply out of lack of other interest?

I am recalling childhood again. We were all so sure of ourselves then. Along with many other aspirations, I had dreams of becoming a writer. My dad had dreams of becoming an architect I remember; he is currently working as a phone solicitor in East Nashville. I don’t think he possessed the ability to be an architect, but he still never pursued it. Dreams of skyscrapers and domes, replaced with the chilling reality of customer service and retail—sad if you ask me. Maybe that’s why I chose writing as a major. I don’t want to detach myself from those childhood ambitions.

I am looking out my windshield and into a vast, cloudless night sky. I am staring at a full moon. I find it startling how we can go about our lives with such an unusual thing suspended in the sky. It sometimes strikes me odd we don’t acknowledge it more. Maybe one night we can walk outside and see it for the first time. Why is it there? What is the purpose of the moon? Technically, it’s useless right? We don’t depend on it. But maybe, subconsciously, some of us do depend on it—and if one night the moon were to suddenly plunge into the deep, it would be as if a piece of us drowned in the abyss with it, lost forever.

I don’t often pray to God, assuming he actually exists, but right now, looking into the sky and listening to Clair De Lune, I feel in some strange way compelled to. I want to ask him for help—this is a ridiculous proposal. I’m sure God has more important duties than to answer the trivial prayer of a college freshman, seeking guidance for a creative writing assignment. I might as well sit on his lap and ask for a red ruby fire truck. But nevertheless I find myself speaking aloud, and asking.

I am standing in the back of the Stop and Go market, holding down a button that releases coffee from a machine. I am holding a plastic cup under the dark stream and watching the cup slowly fill. The Art of Fiction is in my back pocket. The store is occupied by three people including myself. There is a young girl, my age or so, by the refrigerators, apparently contemplating an item to purchase. The cashier, the sole worker in the store, is masked behind a gossip magazine. The coffee machine has jammed. My cup is half-filled—not good enough. I announce to the cashier that the machine is ceasing to grant me coffee. She puts down her magazine and is walking over to me. The girl by the refrigerators is interested with my plight. She says loud enough for me to hear over the aisles that separate us,

“The coffee machine broken again? Used to happen to me all the time. That’s why I get these now—it’s a double shot.” She holds up a canned espresso for me to see. I tell her that those are expensive and I would not give money to the canned espresso’s evil, fascist company. The cashier is slapping the top of the machine with her left hand. I tell her hitting things does not alleviate frustration.

“Then fix it yourself you jerk!” She yells this and stomps back to her post. I want to apologize but I am not sorry. I just want coffee. The girl by the refrigerators holds her canned espresso high. It is glistening under the florescent light. I am tempted to suppress my moral fiber and purchase one. I am thinking that this is not my night. The girl by the refrigerators has opened her espresso and is now seductively emptying its contents into her mouth. I notice that my finger is still pressed against the button of the broken coffee machine. I yell to the cashier and ask her if there is someway she can open the machine and give me coffee manually.

“I’m not allowed to do that,” the cashier tells me. I am wondering why she wouldn’t be able to do such a simple thing. Then I remember I have offended her. I ask the girl by the refrigerators if there are any more canned espressos left.

“Absolutely,” she says, reaching for the stained handle of one of the freezers. I am reasoning that tonight’s contribution to the evil, fascist company does not count, considering the extreme circumstances.

A bell has just rung, indicating the arrival of a new customer. I turn to see. In the doorway stands a man dressed completely in black, including a dark ski mask with eye and mouth holes. He is holding a silver gun with a brown grip. I am thinking he is not here for canned espressos.

“Everyone in this store get the fuck down now!” he commands. For the first time in several minutes I release my finger from the machine and obey his order. I have never partaken in a robbery before, so I don’t know how to ‘get the fuck down’. I am sitting on the floor Indian style. This position hurts; The Art of Fiction is digging into my right cheek.

“I said get down!” I notice the robber is directing this comment to me. I place my head in my lap.

“No you dumbass! Lay down, and put your hands over your head—like this.” The masked gunman is sprawling out on the floor and demonstrating the correct way. I am still confused.

“Do you want me to lie vertical or horizontal?” I ask, “You’re facing towards the register. Would you rather me face to the back of the store so I don’t see what you’re going to do?” He lifts his head up from the floor.

“No you idiot. Look at her, by the refrigerators, she’s doing it right,” the robber says. I slowly rise to get a peek at her over the aisles.

“What the fuck are you doing?” the robber screams, “Don’t get up!” I have forgotten his explanation, so I sit down Indian style again.

“What is wrong with you? This isn’t kindy-garten!” the robber yells. The cashier, whom I can’t see, is yelling advice over her counter,

“The trick is to think of a war,” the cashier begins, “and you’re crawling to safety, except you’re not moving. Think of falling shrapnel, and you’re covering your head to protect yourself.”

“I thought the helmets did that,” I say.

“They do,” the cashier answers, “But if you cover your head with your hands it multiplies the protection.” I am imagining myself in WW2, at Normandy Landing, Omaha Beach. I am crawling up the shoreline, desperately seeking cover. This is working. The robber seems reasonably satisfied. He gets up from the floor and approaches the register.

“You didn’t press the button did you?” the robber asks the cashier.

“What button?” the cashier asks.

“The button that triggers a silent alarm—you know, the ones you see in movies,” the robber explains.

“We don’t have a button here,” she says. This conversation is reminding me of the broken coffee machine. Why did I need coffee? My story! I am lifting my head carefully and looking at the digital clock over the cashier’s register. I have 4 hours and 30 minutes left. The cashier and the robber are still discussing the button’s possible existence. The girl by the refrigerators has entered the debate.

“I’ve never actually seen one in person. Maybe the buttons are just a product of the cinema,” she says. This is my opportunity. I am at Omaha Beach again. I am taking cover behind the body of a fallen soldier. He is dead. I peer over his bleeding chest to see the source of the carnage—swirling, orange funnels of machine gun fire. I will never make it here, I need better cover. Up ahead, fifty feet or so is an embankment. Fleeing soldiers have found temporary refugee there. I need to get to that embankment. My only hope is to crawl. Keep low and crawl Justin and maybe they won’t see you….maybe they won’t see you…

“Where the fuck are you going?” the robber yells, running towards me. He has halted my progress mere feet away from salvation. I am lying by the door. I can see my car parked outside. I feel a cold, metallic object pressed against the back of my neck. I notice the moon has been blanketed by dark clouds and that rain is falling steadily against the sidewalk and the hood and windshield of my car. I wonder where the clouds have come from.

“What made you think you could just leave?” the robber asks. I want to tell the robber I didn’t want to leave his robbery. I want to tell him that I have less than five hours to write a story. But I don’t. Instead of telling him this, I begin to scream. I don’t know why, but right now I am screaming, high falsetto-like. I’m not frightened, I’m just tired. Maybe that’s why I’m screaming, because I just want to go outside in the rain and open my car and drive home. I can faintly hear the robber yelling for me to stop. But every other sound is being suffocated by my screaming. The cashier and the girl are now telling me to stop. But I can’t. I am unable to comprehend what they are all telling me because my mind is in another place—my creative writing classroom. I am remembering a lesson. I am remembering my professor’s voice. He is telling us to turn to page 34 in, The Art of Fiction. He is reading a section out loud from that page:

“No critical study, however brilliant, is the fierce psychological battle a novel is.” My professor is telling us the same applies to the short story. After he says this he smiles at me.

I am back in the Stop and Go. The robber has released the gun from my neck. I have stopped screaming. I am still lying flat on my stomach.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, man, what the fuck happened there?” the robber asks. He is sitting on the floor next to me. I turn my head and see that the cashier’s eyes are slightly over the counter. She is staring at me. I don’t know how to answer the robber’s question.

“You kind of freaked us out there,” the robber begins, “What the hell’s
wrong with you?” I am debating telling him the truth. I am thinking he won’t understand. He can’t understand. But I tell him.

“I am struggling to write a short story,” I say. I look at the robber’s eyes. His pasty skin and blues eyes contrast strongly with his black ski mask.

“Oh, you’re writing a story?” the robber says, “Well shit—I guess that makes perfect sense then.” I sit up. The robber doesn’t seem to mind.

“So that’s why you were screaming?” the robber asks me. I tell him that it was indeed the reason. The cashier lifts the rest of her head from behind the counter and asks, “So what’s the story about?”

The robber spins around towards her and yells, “I didn’t say you could talk!” The robber turns back and in his most gentle voice yet, asks me, “So what is your story about?”

I am embarrassed, but I answer truthfully, “I don’t know. I haven’t written anything yet.” I turn and see that the girl by the refrigerators has crawled into sight. The robber doesn’t seem to notice; he is now pacing around the store. The gun is in his back pocket. The robber asks me, “So do you have any ideas? What kind of story are you looking to write?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, “I can’t think—tonight just isn’t my night.”

“Well try again tomorrow night. Maybe you’ll feel a little better then. No reason to rush brilliance.” the robber says. His statement makes me feel nauseous—a lot like how I feel before I call a girl and get turned down.

“I can’t do that—I have to turn in the story by 10:00 this morning,” I tell him.

“Why the fuck did you wait this long?” the robber asks. The girl by the refrigerators has her elbows on the floor, and her hands cupped around her face, watching me intently.

“I don’t know,” I reply. I am noticing that my legs are going numb—The Art of Fiction is again painfully pressed against my rear end. I pull it out of my pocket.

“What is that?” the robber asks me.

I tell him it is The Art of Fiction.

“By John Gardner?” the robber asks. I tell him it is, and hand him the book. He is staring at it with an expression much like Mark Twain on my professor’s wall. He heaves the book back at me and says, “Nothing can be more creatively cancerous than a self-help writing book—especially one by Gardner—I hate Gardner.”

I am defending The Art of Fiction. I am telling the robber that the book has been extremely helpful.

“A lot of good it has done you now,” the robber says.

To this I have no response. The robber walks away from me and asks the other two occupants of the store, “This young man is having trouble writing a story—how would you address the problem?” The girl on the floor raises her hand.

“You don’t have to raise your hand, just fucking say something,” the robber says.

“Have you tried word association?” she asks, “It may seem childish but it has always worked for me.” I ignore this comment.

“I think he needs genuine, intellectual suggestions,” the robber says. The cashier raises her hand.

“I said you don’t have to raise your hand!” the robber yells.

“Oh sorry,” the cashier says giggling, “Well I guess one of the chief rules you hear nowadays is, write what you know.”

“What do you say to that?” the robber asks me.

I don’t agree with this. I open The Art of Fiction, and flip to page 18.

“No that’s not what Gardner says,” I begin,” Gardner says right here on page 18 that, ‘Nothing can be more limiting to the imagination, nothing is quicker to turn on the psyche’s censoring devices and distortion systems, than trying to write truthfully and interestingly about one’s own home town, one’s crippled young sister.’”

“I don’t care what Gardner thinks—I told you I hate that guy. What do you think?” the robber asks me. For some reason all I can think about right now is an incident that happened a few weeks back while I was eating lunch. After I was finished I returned my tray and silverware to the backroom, but before I left one of the workers in the kitchen started screaming at me. I looked back and realized the yelling was coming from a young guy around my age. I looked at my tray and discovered I had left used napkins—items I should have discarded. The guy wouldn’t stop yelling at me though. He actually started calling me names and cursing. He threw the tray he had been cleaning and left. I never saw him again. Since then, I’ve always wanted to write about the event, but I never could. I don’t know why. Maybe I couldn’t write it because it was such a sensitive subject. Maybe I just can’t write. Maybe it’s a little of both. “I don’t know what I think,” I tell the robber.

“A writer who doesn’t know what he thinks?” the robber asks. The cashier is snickering at me. I have a sudden urge to throw The Art of Fiction at her.

“I just don’t want to write something typical,” I tell him, “I want to impress my professor.” The robber walks over to the counter and tells the cashier to open the register. She complies, and the robber begins to empty the drawer, stuffing the money into a brown bag. He says to me over his shoulder, “I think you need to stop worrying about what your professor or Gardner might think, but instead focusing on what you think.”

“What do you think I should write?” I ask him.

“Just write,” the robber says, “Let your mind go wild. I hate to agree with the cashier, but a good starting point is to write what you know.” The cashier is smiling giddily.

“But Gardner says that—“

“Listen, put that fucking book away,” the robber interrupts, “If you quote Gardner again I’m going to shoot you!” I place the book back in my pocket.

“I need ideas,” I say, “Just a little nudge in the right direction.”

“Don’t think so hard. Take us for instance. Try a robbery—go from there.”

“I don’t want to do something cliché,” I object, “I want to do something real. I want to write something original.”

The robber has finished stuffing his brown bag with the available money, and says to me while closing the drawer, “There are no original concepts! Everything is cliché now—who do you think you are, Rod Sterling? What makes a story original is not the concept, but the characters. For instance: this is a robbery, but why is it a robbery? Why am I holding a gun and stealing from registers? Why is this cashier degrading herself by working here? You see where I’m going with this? Give the reader a fresh perspective.”

“How much time do you have left?” the cashier asks me. I look at the digital clock: I have exactly four hours.

“Also think of tension,” the robber says, “Again take us for an example. See this gun?” The robber is twirling his gun around his index finger like the gangsters of the west. The robber continues, “I have a gun—but is it loaded? You see—tension. Can anyone else think of an example?”

“I got one!” the cashier says, “Despite what I said before, is there really a button here?”

“There better not be a fucking button!” the robber yells.

“But Gardner says—“I try to stop myself from finishing this sentence, but I am too late. The robber is reaching for his gun, and before I can even consider taking back my comment I hear the sound. I have never heard a gunshot in real life. Sure I have heard them in movies, and ever so often from a great distance—but never up close. I realize now I’m dying—all because of my loyalty to Gardner. The life is slowly draining out of me—and for what reason? Because I needed to write—because I wanted to write.

But I am not dying. The bullet did not hit me. Unfortunately for the bag of Doritos next to me, I cannot say the same—its crunchy innards have been spilled everywhere. The robber approaches and sits next to me. I can hear him breathing in long, deep intervals. I can hear the cashier tapping the counter with each one of her long nails. I can hear the buzzing of the florescent lights and the humming of the refrigerators. I can hear the rain falling softly against the sidewalk and roof. I hear the robber lean in closely to me, and say, “I’m sorry about that—just thought I’d prove a point.”

“You did have bullets!” the girl on the floor says.

“Of course I had bullets!” the robber yells, “Now shut up—we’re talking!” For the first time all evening, my mind is clear.

“You don’t have to listen to me,” the robber says, “Look at me, who am I? I’m just a petty thief.” I turn and look at him. His arms are folded and he is staring at the floor. He finally lifts his head slowly, and smiles, extends his hand towards mine and says, “I’m Rob.”

I shake his hand. I hear Rob sigh, and say softly, “We are living in an age where every good and able work is thrown to the intellectual wolves. Trust me. I know.” We are all sitting in our respected positions right now completely immobile. I don’t know about the others, but right now, not moving, I’m content.

“Write from here,” Rob says to me, nudging my chest gently with the handle of his gun, “And they can never get you—no matter what.” I now hear the sound of sirens, gradually getting closer.

“Well my friend, I guess I better get going,” Rob says standing up. The cashier is grinning hugely; the most animated I have seen her tonight. Rob turns and says to her, “You lied to me!”

“Tension—just like you said!” the cashier says. Rob is back in the doorway, where I first saw him. He smiles at me.

“Find your characters,” Rob says grabbing the door’s handle, “And you’ll find your story.”

Rob is now gone. The police are here. The cashier is relaying the events to two officers. Another pair of officers are consoling the girl on the floor, who is now standing and in tears. I am still leaning against the aisle. There is an officer in front of me, asking me questions in soothing tones, but I am not listening. The only reason I am still here is because I’m afraid if I move anywhere else, chances are I’ll lose this feeling. Because being here, immobile, I’m happy. I look at the digital clock: I still have time.

I am at my computer desk again. Mark is still asleep. It has stopped raining. I left The Art of Fiction in my car. I’m not listening to music. My computer screen is blank, but this time I am not worried—I have an idea. I don’t know who to thank for this idea: Gardner, my professor, Rob, God, U2 or myself. Maybe it’s a little of everyone. I am thinking right now that small encounters, however seemingly insignificant, are immeasurably monumental. Maybe when I left my used napkins on my tray, I somehow made that man’s life a little easier because he was able to say what was on his mind. Maybe I met Rob tonight because he needed my help just as much as I needed his. Maybe there’s some small way I can thank him. Maybe I can dedicate this story to him. I am looking at my fingers on the keyboard—I have never learned the proper way to type. My computer screen now reads:

“I am writing a short story right now…or at least trying to.”

Maybe there isn’t a secret to writing. Maybe the writers on my professor’s wall are remembered today for reasons that can’t exactly be articulated, or defined. Maybe every book, every advice, and every word given to help the writer find his way is useless until the writer first finds himself. I just hope in the end it all means something.

I am watching a light dance across my wall—now still. It could be a streetlight, or one of many other artificial lights, but right now, I am thinking it is the moon’s light, and maybe just this once, it is meant solely for me.