The Grief of Discovery

Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.

Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye. (more…)

Life Behind the Writing

A critical but usually unspoken component to writing well is the quality of the human being who writes.  Is he or she smart?  Thoughtful?  Curious?  Provocative?  Original?  Has he or she done emotional research to undergird the story?  “Living a conscious and reflective life is a prerequisite for writing a memoir of substance,” writes Judith Barrington.   Likewise with poetry and fiction.  The written word may be wiser than the human who wrote it, but never by much.

Writing classes don’t address these questions, for good reason; little can be done in a school setting to address a student’s basic nature.  Perhaps when writing teachers despair of ever being effective, this is why.  Unfortunately, many writing teachers shy away from teaching revision as a result.  Creating writing prompts is easier than helping writers to jettison egos, generate new narrative structures, and discover the emotional undercurrents that will become unifying themes.

But to never address the inextricable link between creative writing and the human creator is a mistake.  We write, innumerable authors claim, to find out what we think; personal discovery is intricately interwoven with the effort to make art.  Fiction writers are consciously or unconsciously engaged in exploring the workings of the human psyche; memoir writers thrive on the interchange between memory and the present; poets understand poetry to be not just a craft but a lifestyle.  A writer genuinely interested in improving his or her craft won’t get far without also striving to see the world (and therefore live in the world) afresh.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew