Getting Out of the Way of Our Stories

by Anna Schuleit

I’ve been reading sections of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and when I got to this part of “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” I knew I’d have to share it here on the blog:

Whenever he told the story, Rat had a tendency to stop now and then, interrupting the flow, inserting little clarifications or bits or analysis and personal opinion. It was a bad habit, Mitchell Sanders said, because all that matters is the raw material, the stuff itself, and you can’t clutter it up with your own half-baked commentary. What you have to do, Sanders said, is trust your own story. Get the hell out of the way and let it tell itself.

As Adrienne Rich has been on my mind a great deal lately, Sanders’s advice brings  to mind the lines “the thing I came for: / the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth…” 

Of course, getting out of the way of our stories is easier said than done. And truth be told, we never actually get all the way out of the way, do we?

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2 responses to “Getting Out of the Way of Our Stories

  1. Sandy Longhorn

    O’Brien’s book is its own writing manual. My favorite is “How to Tell a True War Story.” thanks for sending me back to not one but two masters.

  2. I’ve been re-reading the book for that very reason. O’Brien keeps us honest/deceitful/writing.

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