Where Does the Story Come From? — Nancy Nau Sullivan

Today I’m excited to welcome Nancy Nau Sullivan as she shares some great writing advice.

Nancy Nau Sullivan is a writer, teacher, former newspaper journalist and Peace Corps volunteer. Her memoir, THE LAST CADILLAC, was published in 2016 and won an Eric Hoffer Award in memoir. Her short stories and non-fiction have appeared in Gargoyle, The Atherton Review, Akashic Books, skirt!Magazine, Red Rock Review and Literally Stories.  She has a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University. Find Nancy at http://www.nancynausullivan.com and on Facebook.

 

WHERE DOES THE STORY COME FROM?

 The good story is usually right there, just waiting to be written. In my case, it exploded in my face–after I got a divorce, my mother died, and my father announced he was coming to live with me and the kids on an island in Florida.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. I just wrote it down. The advantage was that I knew where it started (with the announcement) and where it would end (with Dad’s death). The rest was The Adventure, as Dad and the kids called it.

It helped that I was an English teacher and a journalist. I’d been writing since age five when I tried to write a letter to my sister and ended up with wavy lines across the page. I knew it was jibberish, but my grandmother encouraged me: “Oh, you will learn to write.”

Experience and encouragement are helpful. But the fact is, for most of us, the story IS right there:

* Listen. Really listen. Local conversations contain the nuggets of stories–the drama, pathos, humor, wisdom of every day life. Elmore Leonard, the lion of dialogue, used to sit in bars and record the crazy things people say.

* Look. Go to a cafe and write up that parade of characters, what they wear, who they are, where, when, why, how. Apply a little imagination and, bueno, a most important element emerges: the action figure, victim, lost love.

* Write. Once I sent a manuscript to an editor. He wrote back on a postcard: “A writer writes.” This was the directive that I had taped over my typewriter (yes, I’ve been at it a while) for years.

If the book is not there yet, so what? Write stories, essays, something. Once I was rummaging through a rack of clothes, next to a woman wearing a huge diamond ring. This particular moment stirred up “Fat Peanut,” a short story about essential greed that destroyed our family cabin on the beach. Now, where did that come from? Imagination had everything to do with that story, and I did not deny the impetus. I sat down and wrote it and a literary journal picked it up almost immediately (shocker) and made it an editor’s pick.

My memoir was not accepted by my publisher until my short stories began appearing in journals. This is not a lucrative profession, as my son likes to remind me. But someone has to do it, and that someone is me. And you, the writer. We might as well face it, we’re addicted to type. We never, never give up. Applying the rear to the seat and putting something on that great white way is a start. We never get to the end unless we get started.

 

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