I was wandering through Seaside, Oregon on an unusually hot and muggy day. Now, on the coast hot and muggy go hand in hand, but we have the good fortune in the Pacific Northwest to not have many unbearably hot days where the ocean meets land. Jump over the Cascades and it is an entirely different matter. On that particular day the fog had completely burned off, but a salty dampness clung to me, and I decided that I needed to escape the streets before my hair turned into a curly mess. If I stay too long in humid weather, I begin to look like Weird Al Yankovic.
As I wandered through the narrow aisles of the shop I’d darted into, my mind flew into chaos. There are times when I wish I could establish a writing studio amid such a bustling shop, letting my mind jump from curio to nick nack while all manner of strange thoughts bubble through my head. Often I feel giddy as I study each object and imagine the kind of person who might pick it up, hold it to the light, consider it, and then carry it off to the
register. If you are wondering what kind of person I would be, let me show you the object I desired most in that small shop. –>
Isn’t it beautiful? I immediately texted my hubby to show him the treasure I found. The exchange went something like this:
Look at this! :Me
The Hubs: What the hell is that?
A salt and pepper shaker. I’ve been thinking we need a new one: Me
The Hubs: No.
I’m buying it! :Me
The Hubs: Don’t you dare. If you bring that thing home, I’m selling all of your books. All of them. Every single last one. I’m serious.
I hate it when he says hurtful things like I’ll sell your books, or There’s no room in our house for one more thing. As a result, I passed on buying that fantastic piece of artwork, an action I have regretted to this day. Revenge was served when a cousin bought me a pair of mating bunny salt and pepper shakers. He glowers every time I bring them out, and those cold eyes spit daggers at me. Before you get all defensive on his behalf, let me point out that he knew I was like this before he married me.
What does all of this have to do with writing? Well, writers are a lot like shoppers and the writing process is a hell of a lot like shopping. Your writing process says a lot about how and what you will write, and it greatly influences your voice. The beauty here is that there is no right or wrong, so long as you are writing in your way. Try to write like someone else and you will fail. (Note: many of us have more than one of the following influencing us!)
The Impulse Shopper
These guys (and I am totally one of them) are similar to the Browser in that they like to meander and take everything in. But, if inspiration hits them, everyone had better watch out. These guys dig into projects with a zeal that borders on obsessive (if we are honest with ourselves, all writers border on obsessive, it just looks different for each writer). This happened to me in the spring. My story suddenly coalesced in my mind and before I knew it, it was July, and I had hardly spoken a word to friends and family, save for those who were tenacious enough to rouse me out of my writing fugue long enough to urge a line or two of dialogue from me.
Pros: Falling into the “naive” classification of writing (see Orhan Pamuk’s book, The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist for more on this), the impulse shopper tends to intuit the nature of what he or she sees and translate that into words that capture the moment and immerse the reader into the image created with the words on the page. Think Romantic Era writers such as Coleridge (Kubla Khan, anyone?). These writers are inspired by the world around them and manage to capture that inspiration in a way that few others manage.
Cons: These guys tend to get off on tangents and write in a very non-linear fashion. Fragmentation is great if you are Faulkner, but as a college professor once told me, you need to channel that chaos and write intentionally, which can be tricky. Finding a trusted editor to curtail your impulsiveness and making sure you are deliberate and intentional in your writing is key. Need some inspiration? Try out Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or check out Judy Ruiz’s Oranges and Sweet Sister Boy.
- Carry a notebook or device with you everywhere so that when the muse hits, you can capture those thoughts rather than losing them to the wind.
- Pay attention to the things that seem to inspire your mind and surround yourself with them.
- Don’t worry about quality when you are caught in the moment. Use those times when you are waiting for inspiration to go back and edit your work.
For the browser, writing is an opportunity to take everything in. These guys view writing as an excuse to explore the world and they slowly meander through their writing just as they do life, exploring the quality of light as it filters in the window and the texture of a nectarine against their lips. Writing is a daily essential for these writers, and it is one way in which they process their experiences and assign meaning and emotion to their sensations.
Pros: Falling into the “naive” classification of writing along with the impulse shopper, these guys have a way of capturing the things others so often take for granted. The browser can provide readers with a sensual glimpse through their eyes. Few other writers can capture so vividly the world around them. Looking for inspiration in this type of writing? Check out Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
Cons: The browsers have a hard time keeping it short and sweet. Because these people feel so committed to their senses, they tend to write exhaustively. In Search of Lost Time is an example of this and Proust only gets away with writing this 7 volume +1million word novel because he is a master. The delete button is this writer’s best friend. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery says, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
- Make time for sifting through your experiences every day. Don’t worry about forming them into something meaningful, just write.
- Find a trusted adviser when you are forming your prose, someone who can help advise you what you need to cut, but always save the original and trust your gut!
- Embrace your need to record everything. You can go back and edit things out later. The best advice on this comes from Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones:
“Our sense by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”
You can read about the other three writing styles here: The Premeditator, The Indecisive Shopper, and The Stingy Shopper.
For now, I will leave you with this thought: