A few months ago I acquired a new neighbor at work --- an impossibly cordial faculty member who moved into the office down the hall upon his return from Ethiopia, where he spent twelve years completing a multi-million dollar project in public financial management. Thanks in part to the water cooler in my office, we've become friendly, and after learning about my exploits as a novelist, he astonished and humbled me with a gift: a copy of the book he was reading called Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark.
I require no tools or strategies, of course, having finished a novel (and that's if I ever required them). But I started reading, mostly out of politeness, and found that Clark himself writes with a fun yet practical zest that holds my interest. Also, the "tools" in question are very digestible, no more than 4-5 pages each. So I read one every few days.
Much to my surprise, I've already found ample use for all six of the tools I've read about thus far. Right now, for instance, I'm giving my last chapter a quick clean up so that I can read it to my therapist later this week (I have to read it to somebody). Within seconds of opening the document I found a paragraph that seemed poised for revision according to the "Fear not the Long Sentence" tool I had just finished reading about minutes before.
I have an aversion to long sentences. Nothing drives my flaky attention battier than some pompous author lacing his critically renowned and dry as hell novel with sentences that linger for dozens of words before approaching their point, leaving me stumbling through all their intellectual or subtly sarcastic asides, which seem intended to build some kind of micro-, sentence-level anticipation, but serve only to send me back to the beginning again and again, desperate to wrap my short-term memory around the whole of the blasted thing.
Thus, I'm only too happy to break up my prose into little candy bits. Probably to a fault. One of my friends and trusted editors politely observed that my writing was a bit "punchy," which at the time I took as a clear cut compliment.
Looking now at this paragraph in my last chapter, which consists of three blunt sentences screaming in chorus their desire to exist as one, I am reminded, yet again, that perfection in writing --- even perfection of your own subjective style --- is unobtainable. And isn't it a frustrating gift? Sometimes, as now, my evolution as a writer is so tangible I can be at once encouraged by the proof of progress and disappointed over my prior inadequacy.
No matter which of these emotions dominate, one thing is certain, which is that revision of my novel will benefit from a concurrent perusal of Writing Tools. I must again offer my gratitude to those who critique, even if indirectly, my writing, as Roy Peter Clark, and my neighbor at work who introduced us, have. My gratitude may start off bitter, but leaves, I hope, a pleasant aftertaste.
The Savior Complex
2 months ago