Monday, March 26, 2007

Writers and Writing

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.


CyberKitten said...

Mike said: 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.

I know what you mean - but doesn't the idea of losing nothing in the translation only apply to non-fiction writing? Although fiction authors most certainly want to get their point across isn't the interpretation of the nuances part of the process of enjoying the novel? Isn't that what Lit-Crit is all about? (I'm guessing here as I've never studied it - I just couldn't stand the idea of analysing the books as I read them. For me fiction is to be enjoyed not analysed. Indeed my friend who studied Lit-Crit @ University said that it ruined her appreciation of literature for years afterwards.)

I think that you are certainly right regarding non-fiction though. When writing it I try to be conscious of how things come across and try to make as little as possible 'open to interpretation' - I feel that if there is too much room to interpret things there is room for error and that the author isn't doing their job properly.... not that I always succeed of course!

Michael K. Althouse said...

ck ~
You are right, I am referring to non-fiction. Although I have taken a stab at fiction, it is not my strength. I prefer to write about the realities of the world and linking them to greater truths, realizations and insights. Often it is an uneasiness that defies description that challenges my ability to phrase it just so.

I believe that fiction is in many ways more difficult to create and in others much easier (but not for me). I am a news writer. Creativity, although an asset, must be held close and not allowed to venture too far outside the lines. Magazine writing allows for a bit more freedom and writing columns even more. It is in the essay, however, that I feel most at home. When I write without restriction, I can best express my creativity. I am within my comfort zone vis-a-vis introspection, creative non-fiction and rhetoric while still venturing outside the bounds of safety, exploring through words what I really know. And what I think I know. And what I don't.

Thanks for stopping by, you always make me think.


kenju said...

My favorite English prof used to say we should ask ourselves if our writing has the three "C's":


I think you have all those, Mike, and you show heart as well.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted to be a writer when i was young. I only lack one thing...talent. I write about things that are in my head and need to come out. Maybe no one will be interested in what I have to say, but I feel better about putting it down anyway. Maybe it has something to do with having ADD, but writing has always put me at ease. I can put my thoughts down and go over them again later, so if my thoughts on a subject have changed. No, I could never be a writer, but I can do this blog thing no problem.

CyberKitten said...

Mike said: Thanks for stopping by, you always make me think.

Ditto. I pop in most days... just don't comment much. I too am happiest is essay writing. So much so that I'm starting another course in September. I tried my hand at fiction but never got anywhere. I'm much happier with non-fiction (with a philosophical bent). I think that there's a book somewhere inside of me... it's just a matter of coaxing it out.

anne said: No, I could never be a writer, but I can do this blog thing no problem.

Then you *are* a writer... [grin].

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm gifted in writing, I'm just a thinker, and I write that down. I like a certain style of writing, and can duplicate most writing styles, which seems weird to me

Anonymous said...

I shouldn't be here..I'm working...snooks..I just had this deep gut feeling there's something great to read not disappointed...Your bloggy reads like chocolate...had to have my fill..hee!..hee!..

back to work..back to

awareness said...

Hi there...I love when you write about your own writing.....!

Giddy? Somehow I can't imagine you and giddy in the same room.

ps. you won an award......check out my blog :)



Hayden said...

(I'm here following a trail of thinking blogs)

"getting it right" applies to fiction, too. Enough of the right details, psychological integrity, all of that stuff about 'being believeable.'

I've seen non-fiction that was so far from getting it right that it looked like cheap fiction. Flat, just words on a page. And then there's fiction that feels real.

it has to be real enough so that you can smell it -

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm going to write my comment before I read any others because I'm not sure I can convey what I'm thinking, and reading others' thoughts will cloud me even further.

Michael as so often happens with you, the nail has been hit on the head (how the HECK do you do that?). There is a lot of content in this particular blog that gets my synapsis snapping but I'm going to address one element of it.

When I read a bloggers' latest entry I experience it at a couple of levels.

One is the actual content of the blog. What is on their mind that they want others to know about? Very interesting stuff indeed for the most part.

A second level for me is, WHY are they posting this particular subject on their blog today? What does this tell me is going on in their life at the moment? Did they start this a long time ago as a draft and slowly add to it or was it immediate? What mood are they in? It is facinating to me how one can determine these things by how a blog is written.

There are times that I, like you, will go back and read past entries. With the benefit of time as a tool for helping me to detach myself I am able to distinguish the "mood" I was in at the time I wrote it.

You are a master of conveying multiple levels of information through your writing. This causes me to return (although I don't post comments often enough)as I end up feeling as though I've sat down and had a short chat with you face to face. There is a quality and depth to your blog that I value and appreciate.

Hmmm...I'm in danger of rambling. Your comments are spot on my friend.