where the writers are
Salman Rushdie says stories have to have "jump," and other things I learned at his City Arts & Lectures appearance

It’s not every evening that you can sit, just four rows in, and listen to one of our great contemporary writers talk candidly about writing, history, politics, and even Scarlett Johansson. But hearing KQED’s Michael Krasny’s relaxed interview with Salman Rushdie on Wednesday evening, it was the writing bit that I held onto—and feverishly tried to memorize—for the next time I found myself stalled at the keyboard, willing the words. Because the words, Rushdie reminds, are what it’s all about.

“All books are, in the end, collections of words. You just have to put them in the right order.” No small task surely, but nevertheless true. “You have to be certain why you’re writing one kind of sentence rather than another.” Okay, words, check. Sentences, check. But the right order and the right kind of sentence…That, I suppose, is the universal goal for any writer, just as much as it’s the journey. Here we all are, mucking around with the black type or pixels against the white paper or screen.

Every day, I think about the book I’m writing. I may not write every day, though I’m working on that, but I do consider the feeling and tone I want the words to evoke. It’s that “jump” that Rushdie refers to, that lightness and pacing that keeps the story afloat past Chapter One. And some days, I simply let the inspiration I feel when I hear advice like Rushdie’s reaffirm that I’m meant to muck around in these words after all, in constant pursuit of the right order. Case in point: “The interesting thing is to do what I haven’t done before”; and “The storyteller only has the power of story, he can’t prove it…only convince.”

And books that “make little explosions in your brain,” as Rushdie put it when he referenced his own great inspiration, Thomas Pynchon. I look back fondly on the books that have had a similar effect on me over the years. Rushdie explained how we then have to spend time recovering from those books, those explosions. And that just stopped me in thought and I caught my breath. We all have that book or, if we’re lucky, those books that mean so much to you, a relationship, a time of life you remain nostalgic for—all of which you may or may not recover from. But all of which jump, and inspire.