The Big Idea

At the beginning of the summer, I started writing what I hoped would be my first novel. I refused to tell anyone what it was about because I had been taught that if you let anyone else in on the story you’re writing, it no longer belongs to you and only you. It was hard keeping my then-fiancee, now-wife in the dark, and I held on for as long as I could. But I eventually succumbed and agreed to let her read the first two chapters.

I got out my laptop, flipped it into tablet mode (to make it more realistic—if I had a printer I probably would’ve printed it out for her), and then handed it over. I told her not to give me any feedback on the story (I thought I could still keep it my own, even though I had already broken the rule), and I tried reading a book while she read to avoid seeing her reactions. So naturally, I ended up keeping an eye on her the whole time, living by every small laugh and dying by each silent moment where I thought there should be a laugh or some reaction.

She finished the fifteen pages or so and turned to me, with no expression on her face, and although I told myself I wasn’t going to ask for her feedback, I asked for her feedback. I was able to control myself a little bit, though, and instead of asking her about every event, character, and detail, I settled on two questions: did you like it? and would you keep reading it?

We don’t need to get into her answer to the first question . . . but her answer to the second question went something like, “Yes, absolutely.” And when I asked her if it was only because I was her fiance, she assured me it wasn’t. That was good enough for me. 

I tried writing more of that novel over the next few weeks but eventually “put it in my drawer” as Stephen King says in his memoir On Writing, and started working on another one. As I wrote the new one, and re-read King’s memoir, I kept going back to that second question. Would you keep reading it? After each chapter I wrote, I asked myself would someone want to keep reading this? (my answer was usually no) and then tried reworking parts of it—adding to the ending, throwing a small cliffhanger, something—to make my imaginary reader want to keep reading. That question kept permeating my mind as I wrote.

I was lying in bed one night after a few hours of writing when the idea came to me. What if I started a blog centered around that one question: would you keep reading? It was as pure of a lightbulb moment as I’ve ever had. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and quickly Googled “would you keep reading blog.” All that came up was tips for getting more people to read your blog. I even went to the second and third pages on Google (a show of my true dedication and awe that this blog didn’t already exist!), and still, nothing. I couldn’t believe it. I decided then and there that I was going to start this blog, post my short stories and chapters, and do a serial or two all focused on that one question. I envisioned thumbs ups and thumbs downs and comments and likes and whatever else you can put on a blog telling me if the beloved reader would keep reading whatever it was I wrote.

It seemed like a very simple premise—and I would say it is—but the more I thought about it, the more I saw how flawed it truly was. I love reading and writing short stories—two of my favorite classes at Jamestown were on the American short story and writing flash fiction. (If you’re reading this, Dr. Flory, all of your classes were also my favorite despite their readings’ lack of brevity—I just don’t think I’ll be writing anything like Beowulf or Vanity Fair any time soon.) A lot of the shorts I studied and wrote took place in one setting, were written in one shot, and were meant to be read the same way. You can’t really break Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in the middle and ask the reader if they’d want to keep reading. Well, there goes my whole blog idea, I thought. Maybe.

Maybe I can urge you, my beloved reader (really, if you’ve gotten this far already without exing out, you are beloved), to think of the question more as would you read that again? (in the case of a short story or flash) or would you want to keep reading a story like that? Would you maybe be so kind as to go along with that? If you are so kind and willing, I hope you follow along with my stories and chapters and answer the question: would you keep reading (or read that again? or want to read another story like that?).