In the last decade I’ve been writing mostly “fiction.” By that I mean not “non-fiction.” But genres are tricky, aren’t they? To write well, I advocate giving up all genres, and ignoring all the rules and admonitions (like this one), and allowing oneself to submerge in the flow of ideas, images, experiences, memories, and imagination. Later, edit furiously; trim and prune ruthlessly. Or not. Only the writer knows the real purpose of each word; the writer is the only fully qualified editor. Other editors, of course, eventually get their hands on the work, but hopefully they understand their role. We’d never expect a gallery curator to trim off pieces of a painting, or apply a little more green just there, would we?
To achieve real excellence in writing requires more than a passing acquaintance with excellent writing. When I meet writers who are already competent and experienced, but who want to ascend to the next level, by far the most powerful tool available is to read the works of great authors, authors who inspire, and to understand what these writers are doing.
Surprisingly, this understanding doesn’t come much from analysis of technique and dissection of plot structure. It comes most efficiently from becoming the chosen great author through the process of reading aloud. Preferably to an audience of real people. When we read aloud, the author’s words enter the reader’s mind just before they’re spoken, and then must be processed, understood, grasped both in terms of meaning and language, and then expressed in speech. To read aloud well is to reflect the author’s intent in the voice, and this happens because reading aloud engages the same thought processes the author used while writing. In the act of reading aloud, the reader must absorb and express the author’s writing persona, swiftly and continuously.
And significantly, if one speaks aloud something that isn’t understood, one hears the confusion as a kind of dishonesty in the voice. Reading silently, we may skim over a paragraph or two, skipping things that seem a bit unclear. But aloud, this just doesn’t work, and it creates a pressure to understand fully, to walk in the author’s shoes. This in turn helps imprint the entire methodology of the writing viscerally, and makes it familiar.
All my writing is an exploration. To me, a written piece is a special kind of mirror, reflecting the inner workings of the author’s mind while constructing an experience unique to the reader. What is fiction? What’s the difference between a prose-poem and prose? Between a discursive free-form non-rhyming sentence-based poem and a very short story? Is a very long story written in iambic pentameter a story or an epic poem? Does anyone care?
Some will care, to be sure, so we welcome these folk to their taut taxonomies and wish them well. Meanwhile, we write poems that appear to be prose, and stories that appear to be poems, and prose-poems with song and cadence; and lyrics lacking melody, rich in prosody. Essays with a touch of song. And just plain stories.
There’s an endless impetus to give voice to those myriad inner visions clamoring to escape the abstract. Every silent motion in the mind seeks its own release, to become a fragment of the real. For me the essays, stories, and poems are blackbirds that flash to the evening sky at the faintest motion of a shrew-toe upon one shard of leaf. And in this spirit, I offer the staccato cadence of dark feathers in the sultry air.