Up Too Close

What kind of writer are you? Do you focus on plot and story or language, color and mood? Do you outline? Do you get the basic story out and come back to refine, or do you work each sentence or line until it’s finely wrought before you move on?

I tend to focus on the language and hope and pray that something of a story – or the message of a poem – will appear in time. I get so close to sentences when I’m writing, that usually couldn’t tell you if there will be anything at all when I step back from the canvas and view it from across the room.

Sometimes I work on a poem for a while, refining it, then I realize it’s about something I didn’t even see or understand until it was ready to share with someone else.

A recent tip from Poets & Writers magazine suggested identifying these characteristics in ourselves, then trying to reverse them as an exercise. http://goo.gl/7VnDn

I don’t know if I can. I have a lot of room to grow in my craft so I’m willing to try. But it’s not going to be easy. When I sit down at the desk, I only have a sentence, if I’m lucky. A thought, a fragment.

He has spent everything he inherited on keeping the rain away. 

After too many years, the dog refused to come into the house.

Though he would never taste it again in this life, he remembered the smell of her soup.

It’s not exactly stuff that lends itself to broad strokes of the brush, if you see what I mean. And though I made up those three sentences extemporaneously within this post, with no intention of using them for anything (but you never know), you can bet I edited each one at least once.

How do we become the kind of artist we are? Well, in my case I wrote poetry exclusively for many years, and poetry is much more a word-by-word process than writing prose. Do you agree?

Also,I take much of my inspiration from fragments of conversations overheard, from songs in my headphones as I write, from photographs. From the little things.

For example, the song Such Great Heights by The Postal Service [http://www.postalservicemusic.net/] was playing on the iPod just now. I was listening to it a year or two ago when I wrote a scene in which the protagonist imagines his life after the departure of his parents.

Here’s a stanza of their song:

They will see us waving from such great
Heights, ‘come down now,’ they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away,
‘come down now,’ but we’ll stay…

Here’s what I wrote in response:

I would rather have had them see me waving down from on high, bearing an enigmatic smile born in the lessons taught outside of time and space, of how perfect life is and how much better than life is death. So people die, but they keep watch on what we do and how we spend our fading days, but most don’t choose to stay too close. Everything looks purer in its blues and greens–even the dull brown between the trees and the ruddy drying tack of our blood on the land–from an infinite distance like heaven.

A nice little bit of writing, a good detail. My problem, to reiterate, is that I think the opposite will be true when I “finish” the novel I’m working on. It might look pretty good close up, it small details here and there, but when you step back, just a forest receding into the trees.


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Want to reach that Poets & Writers Magazine link with your smartphone? Here’s a QR code for you.


3 thoughts on “Up Too Close

  1. Thank you both for your comments! I suppose finding our material and technique are part of the job of writing and blogging. The hardest part is sitting down and seriously focusing on the work, whatever it is. And it’s all important, Ray’s Mom: your blog is just as critical to the day’s legacy of human experience and expression as any novel or poem.

  2. I am neither novelist or poet, I just write what is current in a life situation that is very close. It may more closely resemble a rant to a for real novelist. However my blog and web site have received more traffic than I ever thought possible.
    Enjoy your writing.

  3. I think it’s a problem inherent in poetics vs. prose. I am a novelist, who has finally returned to my poetic roots – and I am struggling with the exact opposite problem. I’m wordy, I’m imprecise, I lack the word-play I used to love. Hopefully, over time, I hope to recapture that attention to detail, but in the meantime, I fight on. Good luck with your own. I’m sure, through the ramblings, you will find something larger.

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