I am often left dumbstruck when reading the prose of certain established writers. I am attracted to essayists and columnists primarily, but often a writer’s style is so compelling that I’ll read what I might otherwise put aside. It is also true of many lesser-known as well as many unknown writers I come across. I am not, however, what one might call “well-read.” Although I have read many of the classics as well as the not-so classic, I cannot quote chapter and verse or even recognize the words as those of a particular writer - but I remember reading them.
Once an author gets my attention, I’m in. It’s not just a mechanical process of decoding letters and punctuation to convey information - it goes far deeper than that. Well written prose is to writing what a Rembrandt is to a technical diagram. It touches my soul and becomes part of me. The beauty, the anguish, the joy and the frustration are all equally represented seamlessly in the creation of an assemblage of words.
Writing styles are difficult to define. The genres and marketing devices used to pigeonhole a writer’s work are all well and good, perhaps even necessary, but it’s not the same as the artistic wordsmithing that carries with it that which the author feels. It’s the identity of the writer, his DNA, as it were. Like a glass of wine that is described in terms like “full-bodied,” “robust,” “delicate,” and even “nutty,” writers capture that intrinsic, sometimes ethereal quality that is impossible to qualify.
I re-read my own work often and it should come as no surprise that I am my worst critic. I will measure my work against the work of those I admire and end up feeling rather small. Then there are times when I have written something I truly like - really. And it’s not Didion or Orwell or Angelou or Twain… not Quindlen or Dillard or Hemingway or Elliot… not Mencken or Wills or Wolfe… or Woolf - it’s me. Although I cannot claim to be in the same league as these literary giants, I can still assess the quality of some of my writing by the same standard that leads me to theirs. Do I like it? Does it touch something deeper? Yes and yes.
Some of my older work shows haste and inexperience while other pieces reveal something else. An essence that has the elements of insight and soul; a piece that’s leaves part of me behind; indeed, the transcendence of just words and punctuation that is an open door to my inner sanctum. As the painter expresses with oils, the musician with graceful audible vibrations, I have been successful in replicating the abstract for anyone seeking it; including myself.
I don’t consciously try to create any kind of mood in my writing. If there is torment to be had, it must emerge on it’s own. Giddiness will find no artificial home with me. It’s straight from the hip; uncut and uncensored. I am nothing if not authentic. My greatest stumbling block today is getting the feeling out of my head and onto paper (or its virtual equivalent). There is only one combination that represents what I am trying to say. When I hit upon it, I know it just as I can feel it in the writing of others. When it’s not coming, I can’t force it.
I do not aspire to be a writer of the class enumerated earlier. In fact, I don’t aspire to attain any class at all. If that is my fate, so be it, but it will be a by-product. The goal is to get it right… to convey what I am trying to say by encoding it so that when decoded, nothing is lost in the translation. That’s all. That’s enough.