Friday, March 30, 2012

Skeletons, Ghosts, and Shadows

If you wish to be a writer, write.
                                        -- Epictetus

On Saturday, I went to a workshop on writing children's picture books. The teacher was Barbara Bottner, truly the rock star diva of pictures and truly a gifted teacher.

Even if one had no writing aspirations lurking in one's bosom (in which case one would be rare indeed), one would have benefited from her teaching, which offered a mix of general life instruction (know yourself, be authentic) in addition to the highly specific (and immensely useful) writing instruction having to do with language, tone, plot structure, characterization, and so on.

It was such a fantastic surprise that Ms. Bottner began by explaining the pressing need to rummage around in the dark subconscious closets and haul out what we've made sure to pack deep in the recesses because we've been afraid or unwilling to look at, think about, or even admit the presence of what's creeping about in there. They being the source of our conflicts and therefore the drivers of our actions.

Lately I've spent much time reviewing passages and what I'm seeing is that boring writing is superficial and disconnected -- from real life (lacks detail) and from human experience (lacks heart, lacks authentic expression of emotion and experience). I corresponded with a writer today about her poem, which I loved for its sheer discipline and precision, and she said it was fun to write.

No surprises there: in On Writing Well, Zinsser talks about "the intangibles that produce good writing--confidence, enjoyment, intention, and integrity."

As for me, it's a pleasure to work with writers who are having fun and it's even a greater pleasure when the fun shows up and waves at me from the page.

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