Why to Take Notes

July 30, 2011   •   By Kevin Brockmeier

A Chronological List of Statements People Made to Me
at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1995-1997


~ FOR ME IT'S THE OPPOSITE. You feel like a little kid, I feel like an old woman.

~ I really like your last paragraph. Why don't you take that idea and use it to write a story?

~ "Half of Rumpelstiltskin"'s kind of a mouthful, isn't it? Maybe after you introduce him, you can just call him "Rumpelstiltskin."

~ To me you look like a person who can't get enough Heidegger.

~ I'll say this much - you know how to eff the ineffable.

~ The question is whether or not we're dealing with an unreliable narrator here, and [turning to look me in the eyes] that is important.

~ So you've got one middle letter or two middle letters, and they can both be palindromes: "Bob" on the one hand, "boob" on the other, is what you're saying. Oh, that's perfect. That's what you should name your characters: "Bob and Boob."

~ Yes, yes, yes. It's called Zeno's Paradox. I was bored by it in Philosophy 101, and I'm bored by it now.

~ [Note on the last page of a story, underlined, with a sorcerer's hat drawn on top]: Too much magic!

~ You're a talented guy, but you're not going to land something like this with Bill Buford. What you need to do is write a story that's still you, but not so much you.

~ I hate that whole acrobatty-William-Gaddis-Thomas-Pynchon-if-I'm-smart-enough-and-pretend-I'm-enjoying-myself-maybe-no-one-will-notice-I'm-BSing BS, which is what I see in this story. What I can say in its favor is that it makes me want to go home and write.

~ Now Mr. Brockmeier here is going to start us off by saying what he likes best about this story. See if he doesn't.

~ "Deliquescing icicles"? You don't think that's a little much?

~ For me, writing a story is like building a table. You've got a certain number of parts, and once they're all in place, you're basically finished. You, it's like you're drawing a picture with a Spirograph. There's no reason you couldn't go on and on like this forever.

~ Of course I walked. I start driving a car, and the next thing you know I'll be carrying a gun.

~ Anyone can see the problem with stories like ours. They're not authentic enough. Where's the heroin, I ask you; where is the heroin?

~ [Note on the first page of a story titled "Space"]: Be careful. I know you mean space as in the space between this father and his son, but people are going to think you mean space as in outer space.

~ Is it really necessary for every noun to have an adjective?

~ Star Crunches? Your idea of a well-rounded diet is putting cookies on your ice cream.

~ See, you hand me a story and you say, "This is either great or it's horrible," but we both know that what you really mean is, "This is great."

~ You want to know my workshop wish? I wish I could wear a mask when I'm up so that no one could see my face.

~ Don't you get tired of all these stories that seem to take place in empty white rooms. [pause] I can tell by your silence that you don't.

~ I knew it! I said to myself, "He's not going to park at Java House, is he? He's going to leave my car right where it was when he borrowed it and walk all the way back here." I'd say that's knowing a person pretty well, when you can predict a thing like that.

~ It's done. That's my opinion. Send this puppy out.

~ Selecting your words carefully — okay, who can disagree with that? But you, it's like you've blacked out half the dictionary. You're forbidding yourself more words than you're allowing yourself.

~ I was thinking about just that question recently, and I have to say Ringo.

~ Sometimes a nice simple sentence can be good, too.

~ Yeah, but you don't introduce yourself to a woman by making these grand romantic gestures. You say — I don't know — "I like your shoes."

~ [Suggestions upon confessing I was having trouble titling my thesis]: "The Collected Homework of Kevin Brockmeier." "Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike." "Stories I Hate."