I am impatient.
there are writers who spend five or eight or a dozen years writing a novel, crafting each sentence, paragraph, and chapter with the dedication and precision of a Bernini. I would be bald and fat if I worked that way, having pulled every hair from my head and eaten everything I could get my hands on.
this past week I took Word and Excel training sessions, eating an entire (large) bag of jelly bellies while doing so. I pulled only a hair or two.
but to worry a paragraph to perfection takes more patience and love than I can seem to find.
I love words, I enjoy playing with sentence structure and rhythm. I close my eyes and feel for what’s underneath the words. I read what I’ve written, I’ll niggle with words, clauses, the swooping of lines. I’ll fix redundancies, repetitions, recurrences. (that was a joke.) I read for clarity and interest. I chop the unnecessary, unless I’m too attached to it to do so. I strike articles and “that” and make sure to refer to people as “who” and animals as “that,” unless an animal needs to become a “who” because of the story.
but I craft very few perfect paragraphs.
Orion magazine has an online column named the place where you live, and there, this week, I discovered a perfect paragraph. caught midway between envy and appreciation, I acknowledge that I could try harder. I could quell my impatience–somehow–and focus more deeply on each word I write and how it behaves around those surrounding it. but no matter how long I write, how many hairs I pull or jelly bellies I eat, no matter the years under my belt, the volumes to my credit, the number of tweets I’ve carefully honed, I will always, always, be awed by the perfect paragraphs of other writers.
this one, by jaren watson, can be accessed by clicking the link above, but I’m also including it below. enjoy, be awed, be envious, be encouraged.
Posted by Jaren Watson | September 17, 2014
My home lies in the shadows of granite giants to the east, limestone pilgrims to the west. The plain between was carved by the Yellowstone caldera a hundred thousand years ago, and now lies as flat as hammered brass. In the hills above my home, my ancestors shook the shoulders of Hin-mah-tu-yah-lat-kekt, the wisest and gentlest leader this land has ever known, and chased him from the belly of his lover, made his home their home. As now I sleep I hear his voice in the whistle of the elk, my neighbors. I feel his hands about my ankles as I wade the waters of the Teton River, my mother. My brothers are juniper and pine, and the wind through their needles is the whisper of our Chief, saying, “Rest, my son. Rest upon my bones, your bedstead.”
this afternoon I decided to organize my writing life. a wet version of something between hail, sleet, and snow is piling up on my yard and patio and it’s a perfect day to be indoors contemplating the various paths I might follow during my next half-year of writing.
like the suddenness of this afternoon’s storm, my writing life has just ignited. while I was waiting for a lunch meeting regarding my grace manuscript, I counted back the years of this writing life of mine, and realized that it’s been almost 22 years since I committed to creating written works of art. given, I haven’t yet quit my day job, but I have never truly stopped pursuing this dream. I’ve performed some editing, I’ve hired out, I’ve spent a chunk of time writing “morning pages,” I’ve attended workshops and seminars and written more queries and synopses than I want to think about. printed papers of all I’ve written would likely cover every wall in our main downtown library. essays, short stories, novels, memoir, works of non-fiction . . . I am versatile and prolific.
and suddenly I’m busy. I have one published book out there for which I must stimulate sales and find more ways to market, and I have a completed manuscript for which I’m creating a marketing plan. I’ve just accepted a commission to complete a memoir for a woman who died before completing hers, and I’m working on a short story to enter into a competition next month. in addition, I have a friend who wants me to take a look at her manuscript, and a request from a small publisher to come up with an idea (and eventually a completed manuscript) to meet his current need. not to mention my novel-in-the-works . . .
so I decided it was time to get organized.
my sophisticated system is this: a manila folder upon which I’ve written the name of each project, my current plans and commitments for it, and my 3-6 month goal. it took about 15 minutes, and so far it works for me. now I have something to keep me centered and on task, to help me remember what I might forget, something to keep me honest. it all seems doable.
however, it also pointed out to me that we’ve already finished almost one-twelfth of this beautiful new year, and next month’s contest deadline will be followed closely by my next goal date in april. time slows for no man, does she?
the snow is still coming down solidly, building on top of what came down when I began typing this post. it’s a good quarter-inch higher than it was then, thick and white and wet. it’s resolute, committed, determined, unstoppable.
sounds good to me.
I love research, whether it be the origin of a phrase, the date of a birth, or the history of a person or event. I’m a dedicated fact-checker, a punctilious speller, meticulous in my efforts to state things correctly. I love learning causes and explanations and silly little facts, and I find digging into the why’s and where’s to be an intriguing challenge. while my greatest joy in writing is to be in that place of “flow” where the words come flying through my fingers with very little conscious participation, I find the researching aspect of writing to be a challenge that when answered brings me incredible satisfaction.
another form of writing research is possibly even better, though . . . and that would be the times I research the writing styles of other authors.
stephen king has been credited with the following words of wisdom: If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:read a lot and write a lot.
darn, I have to read. a lot. what drudgery.
I pretend it’s work, while I’m singing inside.
these past few days I’ve been rereading a book I read nine years ago, a book I love, the time traveler’s wife (if you haven’t already, please read this book. skip the movie: read this fabulous book). it’s research, you see, as my latest project has a vague connection to issues written about by ms. niffenegger. I snuggle into my corner of the couch, a chenille throw draped around my knees and toes, and dig into my research. serious countenance aside, I am inwardly grinning and happy as a clam.
to be honest, though, I often end up reading works I don’t care quite so much for in attempts to be “aware” and on top of the literary scene. (no, haven’t tried fifty shades of anything, yet.) I have forced myself through pulitzer prize winning books, and books on top of “everyone’s” must-read lists, classics, and even those suggested by friends, all in efforts to broaden my experiences and taste. to increase my exposure, to stay current. I am too kind to make a list of Books I Couldn’t Finish, or even Books I Wanted To Stop Reading But Didn’t Because They Won Prizes. but I will share those titles in close company, and shake my head in amazement that I am so uneducated? dense? narrow? as to think little of them.
but fortunately, most of my reading-research involves books I actually enjoy reading. from each book, story, or essay I read I pick up ideas. phrasing, methods, new words, craft . . . there is always something for a writer to learn from another written work.
so please excuse the brevity, but I must return to ms. niffenegger’s book because it seems that I still have work to do.