Everyone could no longer count the times that someone had jumped from a window or been sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or visited the John Quincy Adams animatron at the Dasney Amusement Park Mall. Increasingly, with each chapter of the novel, everyone felt as if she or he were writing the same story over and over again. Everyone was tired. Everyone asked the Internet what the best way was to stay motivated when writing.
The Internet groaned. The Internet would answer the question, and then everyone would object and do as she or he wanted. The Internet felt as if its presence in everyone’s life was pointless, and it heavily considered shutting off. Still, the Internet had an uncontrollable impulse to showcase its knowledge. The Internet had an ego, after all, and if the Internet didn’t answer, it would never be able to tell everyone, “I told you so.”
“Don’t make your outline too exhaustive,” the Internet advised. “Know where you’re going in a general sense, but allow the vicissitudes of the moment to show you how. Don’t be too wedded to your planned ending. A story will sustain itself, and if you’re bored, it’s best to break. Lay the story down and pick it up somewhere else. Discover things you don’t know yet that will re-enliven the section where you left off.”
Everyone nodded, though the advice wasn’t helping. “What if at each section you end up in the same place?” everyone asked.
“Everyone only has one story,” the Internet observed and laughed in a conceited manner. “That’s all most authors have--three or four if they’re lucky.” The Internet displayed a photograph of Edgar Allan Poe and under it a list of three basic outlines and the stories that fit within them. “This is how our friend Harvey created a website that, with a few A-B-C selections, lets readers write their own Poe story. In the end, after all, it’s the reader who writes the tale, so why, Harvey asked, not just skip the author?”
Everyone stared at the Poe photograph. The man seemed beset by the difficulty of writing new fiction also, the dark shadows under each eye, as if death was awaiting to take him before he’d had a chance to get even the beginning right. That is what everyone really needed, of course--a beginning. If only everyone could find the right beginning, she or he knew, everything else would fall in place, including the desire to continue.
“It doesn’t matter!” the Internet screamed when everyone asked again how to start. Every time, everyone returned to this basic question, and every time everyone ignored what the Internet had advised. “Readers will begin where they begin and finish where they finish. Few read a book all the way through or in chapter order, especially online. They pick it up, read about a party for people who matter on page 131. They skip to a chapter on metafiction and from there to another where a parade of dog walkers prevents the protagonist from meeting her or his idealized self or some dreamed-of romantic interest. Then the reader gets so flustered that she or he throws the book across the room and never returns, and for all intents and purposes, that is the book to her or him, what she or he actually read. Another reader starts at the place where the writer begins, then skips to the credits at the end, then plunges into a chapter about the performance of a medieval play and, gleaning all that she or he wishes to know, shuts the book with the intention of one day returning to the find the medieval play chapter is now unfindable, and instead, the book seems to be about social media marketing practices.”
“So you’re saying,” everyone asked, now suddenly excited, “that I need not just one beginning but one hundred.”
“Or a thousand,” the Internet said, “whatever the number of pages in your book, and an equal number of endings. Tag it, index it, if you wish, guide your reader into various possible readings you might prefer she or he try, but in the end, the reader is in charge, and you, as author, are subject to her or his whims.”
“That’s preposterous,” everyone said. Everyone stormed to the window next to her or his desk. Outside the family dog was barking. The kids must have let it out. Every night, it was the same.
Every day, everyone felt, she or he wrote the same story: wake up, work, sleep. Perhaps, the Internet was right. We all only had one story, and for most, that story had 70 x 365 beginnings and endings, give or take a few--or just one of each, depending on how one read.
Everyone wants you to read the book on which he or she is working, a novel everyone is writing in order to find the meaning of life, with which everyone’s spouse ran off. But everyone has to finish the novel before everyone can know where the novel begins. In the meantime, there are all these distractions, such as the twelfth-floor window at the office building where everyone works out of which people or maybe just one person keeps jumping or falling--everyone isn’t sure--or everyone’s sexy coworker Sam, whom everyone is struggling valiantly against to keep from becoming a paramour. It’s kind of pitiful, actually, the way everyone keeps begging you to read, sending you e-mails, dropping it into conversation (“I have a book, you know?”), posting links to it on social-networking sites. Everyone figures that if he or she begs enough, you will break down and try it. Everyone is like a dog that way, watching you eat your dinner. The way you handle the dog is to push it away from the table, lock it outside the room. Sometimes, of course, you hand the dog a bite, an inch-sized bit of beef, and that is all everyone is asking for--a bite, that you read just the first line of his or her book. The problem is that you know everyone too well. If you read one line, everyone will beg you to read another. Just one more.
To start from the beginning of the novel, go here.