Don’t You Forget About Me

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Have you ever noticed there is no such thing as a creative writing course which teaches how to write something memorable?

Okay, I admit it – I’ve never taken a creative writing course in my life. However, I have read lots of articles and essays on writing, and story structures, and none of those things ever mention anything about writing something notable. Seems kind of strange, doesn’t it? I mean, considering that “memorable” is probably the single most important trait any story can have. After all, even if you write the most powerful and wonderful and life-affirming novel anyone can imagine, your message is useless if people forget about it, 5 minutes after they read it. Right?

“Memorable” is the defining trait that makes the creation of beauty all worthwhile.

People teach plot and character development and three-act-structures and action and dialog and grammar and formatting but no one ever offers to educate people on how to make a lasting impression. No one ever teaches you how to write something enduring.

For instance, I read a punkrock autobiography recently. It’s an enjoyable story. An easy read. Not too long. Nice pace. I never got bored with it. I finished it in a single sitting. Maybe two. But if you ask me to give you a summary of what happens in the story, I can’t do it. The author wrote a good book. He didn’t write a memorable book.

The more I thought about this, the more unsettling it became. We expect crappy stories to be forgotten. They should fall flat. Lame characters. Boring action. Stupid storylines. Sure, that stuff, we know will be forgotten. But what about a genuinely enjoyable story? When you like the characters, and enjoy the plot, and you still can’t remember a damn thing about it, what then? Did the author fail? He did everything right. He followed all the rules of what it means to be a “good writer”, but what was the missing element? Why was the tale so easily wiped from my memory?

That ephemeral quality of being something that sticks with the reader is something we can’t learn how to do. The charm either manifests, or it doesn’t. Not much we can do to assure the pages conjure it.

That is one of my biggest fears with writing. Most authors are afraid to be unsuccessful. They worry no one will like their work. I don’t worry about that. I’m very confident in my writing. I know I’m good. I don’t think I’m one of the all-time-greats, but I am confident what I do is up to snuff and par. People who read my work will enjoy it. I’m very sure of myself in that regard. But is it classic? That is an elusive trait one can’t engineer or construct. How can you assure a noteworthy reading experience? There are no writing courses which teach authors to be remembered. There are no advice books explaining how to create works which are unforgettable and stand the test of time. Every author who has ever lived hopes to achieve that long-term-relevance, and no author who has ever lived, even those who have achieved such indelible notoriety, could tell you how they did it.

There’s no formula. No blueprint. No guideline.

Or is there?

Perhaps the great secret is that being the creator of indelible art follows a pattern after all. Maybe those who consistently write memorable works, know the trick, and they’re keeping it very quiet. And maybe, just maybe, a reader who is observant enough, can spot the alchemy, reconjure the magic, and learn the one thing no master ever teaches. Learn the only thing that matters. Learn to be, not merely “the voice of a generation”, but to become the embodiment of the human condition.

How will you be remembered?