Thoreau admonished “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”
Emerson responded, “Don’t you think one simplify would have sufficed.”
As I go back and scan these entries, I cringe at their tediousness.
Simplicity isn’t making its way on the page.
That’s okay, for now. This entry is an apology, and an acknowledgement that fiction and nonfiction are entirely different animals from expository writing, no matter how lyric and luminous an expository essay may be. For too many years, I earned kudos for my writing, because I mastered the formula and stuck to it. I was like James Patterson, I knew exactly what my audience wanted, and invariably used it: introduce the topic, ask a question, form a hypothesis, succinctly state the thesis, develop an argument paragraph by paragraph, nod to the alternatives, summarize the argument, then give the conclusion, usually in a clever or nearly poetic summary. Wow them.
I did well at that formula. Really well. So well that I created a comfort zone that was impenetrable, as I knew how to work the formula without failing. Much of my adult life was spent hacking out sentences in the wildly exciting craft of revision. Revision, revision, revision. There’s no simple way to an elegant essay, other than revision.
I succeeded in my academic studies, not because I was brilliant, but because I was willing to put in inordinate hours revising. Sentence by sentence, I was a workhorse of wordsmithing. I was also good at close reading, good at synthesizing the seemingly disparate, and good at interpreting metaphors, which when served by the excessive labors of revision, earned me my coveted rewards. I aimed to please, and I knew how to impress my audience of one, my professor, if I could hide behind the work of others, use my handy dandy formula for success, and spend sleepless nights and days revising.
I’ve abandoned that model, to draw from a deeper creative well. Those years gave me extraordinary writing practice, but now I’m dealing with my own voice, my own stories, my own narrative construction. The consequent prose often flounders, struggles to find its way in this new landscape, isn’t always certain of itself, and the excesses of that exploration are repetitive and strained.
A criticism of the blogosphere is that there’s little editing done. I agree. We rarely see our work’s shortcomings without distance, and social media’s immediacy fails to recognize the space needed for writing’s refinement. No matter how much I edit these entries, they aren’t what they should be. They are blog entries. They are cumbersome. They are redundant. They are poorly proofread, that is, with the eyes that wrote them. They are me thinking out loud much of the time, trying to tie big disparate life elements together in a little package, and I have yet to master that creative bent without the expository essay formula.
However, I am doing what my “About” page states I will be doing here, flushing out ideas, honing my voice, and discovering more about this new territory. In this regard, I’ve been successful. More than successful, for these forays have richly informed my evolving narrative choices.
Simplicity is work until it becomes habit, in life and in art. In life, it’s both discipline and awareness, daily choosing what works over what doesn’t, until habits are lived without thinking about them. In writing, simplicity and elegance mean making every word matter. That’s the practice of writing, and the craft of revision. Sometimes, it’s better to throw down as many words as possible, muck around in the ideas, polish the prose as much as time allows, and then move on, having gained experience in what works and what doesn’t.
In an Ira Glass interview that I posted earlier this year, he exhorted writers beginning their career to produce as much as possible. Just produce. Throw it all down. Make the mistakes. Learn. Move on.
In artistic terms, I think that means that the burgeoning writer will be Thoreau like, saying the same thing over and again, when one word would have sufficed.
Thanks for subscribing to these updates and following my journey.