Writing Is Like Walking
Down a Dark Street
Natalia J. Garland
Creative writing is risky, toilsome, and personal. It is a
process of channeling thoughts into literary comprehension, and
resourcing one's whole being to do this both naturally and
intentionally. In other words, our knowledge and experience of
life must be coordinated with grammatical skill and writing style.
In an attempt to explain, describe, and model this process, let me
offer three ways of looking at creative writing.
Like Walking Down a Dark Street
It is midnight and the
narrow streets are slick from a recent downpour of rain. There is
still a slight drizzle, just enough to chill the air and force me
to hunch my shoulders in self-protection. A gust of wind blows a
crumpled manuscript across my path; the rat in the gutter laughs.
What will happen next? Will a thug jump out from a corner and
rob me? Will a friend drive by and offer me a ride home? Or will
I continue walking alone down the murky street, using all my
senses and instincts to guide me until I reach the end?
Writing means to
become a voice in the silence, a light in the darkness, a
reservoir in the deluge, a harvest in the drought. The writer is
intensely interior in the formation of thoughts, yet socially
generous with the resultant pages of self-expression. Any
communication, however, is open to criticism (valid or cruel) and
rejection (possibly censorship), as well as to affirmation and
understanding. It takes determination and commitment to walk down
that engrossing but perilous street of creativity--especially
since the ending is never really known until it is reached.
Like Restoring a Classic Car
My relationship with cars
has always involved a tension of love and hate. On the one hand,
I despise cars because of their pollution, because of reckless
drivers and horrible accidents, and because of highways which
tear ugly gashes into our good earth. On the other hand, I
desire to possess the beauty of cars and the confidence of speed
and power. Classic cars represent quality workmanship, horsepower,
and luxury (depending on model and year). The restoration of
rusted junk to pristine condition preserves history and the good
memories of other eras. But restoring a car is dirty work. It
requires mechanical expertise, finding or ordering the right parts
and finishes, and hours of labor in the garage.
Revision of a story
or poem also involves a tearing-down and rebuilding process. Even
though I thrive on writing, sometimes I dread the labor of
revising a difficult essay. Occasionally, my revised composition
barely resembles the draft or outline. The idea or premise,
however, is still there. Whether I make obvious corrections or
extensive alterations--whether the car is restored to factory
specifications or customized with a new motor--the craftsmanship is
still there. The goal is that the project conclude with
enlightenment. The final manifestation must be vital, having its
own momentum, and with no expense withheld.
Like Piecing a Scrap Quilt
Grandma may never have
written a novel, but she knew what she was doing when she pieced
odd scraps of fabric together to make a warm quilt. Grandma was
resourceful. She dug deep into her basket of colors, shapes,
and textures. She made everything fit together in a one-of-a-kind
arrangement. Each scrap of fabric had meaning because it had been
recycled from a dress or blouse, perhaps a flour sack, and then
fashioned into a changed form with a new purpose. Grandma knew
how to combine utility, decoration, and permanence for her family
and future generations.
All of us who
write--academically, professionally, creatively--must learn how to
select and organize the components of language, content, and
style. We must choose precise words, the length of sentences, and
the sequence of paragraphs. We must decide the purpose of the
topic, and the proportion of intellectual and emotional
expression. The composition must withstand scrutiny no matter
from which angle it is studied. There can be no poverty of ideas,
no excuses for failure. The lines must cascade with conviction,
with endless enjoyment, so that the message will be absorbed and
used by the reader. Otherwise, the writer becomes extinct.
today's three vignettes. Of course, the end of one composition
is a signpost to the beginning of another. Well, the middle of
a composition can point to the beginning of another, too. Perhaps
you will be inspired to create your own descriptions as an
exercise in self-awareness: thinking, feeling, and writing.
The End. (Written 07/09/07)
Until we meet