Monday, June 21, 2010


My fiction writing teacher loathed what she called refrigerator words; words like big or heavy, small, long, far, close...HOW big? she would ask, HOW far? Big tells you nothing without comparison. And so they invented humongous; problem solved. Forgive me, Marsha, for the times I have allowed that easier, softer way to lure me. The ability to think in words and pictures cannot be a common one; finding the reasons why this is similar to that is the game we will be playing until our thoughts run out.

To be a writer is, for me, to be a life-long apprentice. How do you quantify mastery as a the words cause you to weep, give you goosebumps, send you reeling like a Monty Python fish slap? How it feels in my writer's heart is that fresh degrees of precision await, if I take the time to reach them. Within the writing world, there are measures of achievement - published books, stories and essays and opinions selected by periodicals of note - and yet it does not feel incomplete simply to have a self-assigned task every few days, more often if possible; a sampler of what I hope are my best stitches or the newer ones which I'm trying out.

My memory was once such that my family would quiz me on meals we had eaten in certain locations along the California roads we traveled. Some of the towns we never saw again; to others we returned at least once a year. Now I can remember favorite meals at a Mojave cafe but not the name of the coffee shop. With a map in hand to prompt me, I could at least identify places we stayed overnight. From that it might be possible to recall dinner or breakfast, but mostly the names of restaurants have faded.

Occasionally the specifics are essential to the story, and there is the accuracy death-grip that comes from reporting. Then, if you factor in the vanity of recalling minutia over so many decades (all yawning lapses of time and event notwithstanding), I am uncomfortable, though not every moment, admitting that some of the pieces are gone.

This, you have guessed by now, is tap dancing, stalling before I am ready to burrow back into the cave of the drooling carnivore that "Wedded" turned out to be. On the days when mumbling and shuffling are as good as it gets, I give thanks for whatever sound and movement can be mustered. With the fantods upon us, any sign of life is reassuring.


Robert the Skeptic said...

Tap dancing in itself is an art form.

Laoch of Chicago said...

It seems to me that throughout my lifetime there were 2 major schools of writing, the Hemingway school, with sparse direct action words and no unnecessary ornamentation, and the Faulkner school, with much more florid and ornate style. Gradually the Hemingway school has won but I feel that individuality should be encouraged even though I prefer the Hemingway style.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - At least it is an art form in which I have some training.

L of C - In his novel, "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," crime writer George V. Higgins used only the verb "said" for all the dialogue. It was so clean and simple and fit the tone of the story; I wish I'd done it first.

Elisabeth said...

The word 'nice' to me is one of those abhorrent non-words.

I know, too, what you mean abut those lapses in memory that refuse to offer up the gorgeous details that would help to bring a place, a scene or a memory alive.

I try to trust that my imagination will churn up just the right amount of detail. There's otherwise the risk of introducing too much detail, which I have done when I have added details into a draft after the event for effect.

Somehow we need a balance.

Thanks for a terrific post, Marilynn.