Writers' Role Models

You’ll find lots of strong meat in Jerry Waxler’s blog, Memory Writer’s Network. I’ve added Jerry to my Blogarithm watch list (accessible via the subscription link in my left column). Jerry’s training and experience as a therapist may be the key to his unusual insight into human nature and life writing.

In a recent post, Storytelling Lessons for Memoir Writers, he wrote:
Many successful writers recommend that you learn the art of writing stories by emulating the books you enjoy reading. My problem with this method is that once I dive into the story I stop thinking about writing.
If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you may recall that I’m one of the people who make this recommendation. Jerry’s comment alerted me that some amplification is in order.

For me, the main benefit of reading authors I admire is in shaping my thinking. For example, Rosamund Pilcher (one example of dozens I could cite) excels at description and evocative wording. As I read her books, I pause and savor juicy phrases used to record details. I roll them around my mind and let the flavor linger. Increasingly often, I find myself searching for unique ways of describing elements of my environment as I make my way through the day. How can I give the sense of that fluffy cloud bank? What does it call to mind? How can I describe the unexpected joy of hands slipping through a sink of warm dishwater heaped with mounds of fragrantly iridescent bubbles?

It is true that over time, my conversation has become more colorful, and descriptive phrases flow more easily onto paper. But the greatest value comes when I'm rewriting. That's when I stop to look for ways to add greater variety and punch.

Jerry and I could be talking about two different things. He may be focused on structure while I'm addressing wordsmithing. Like Jerry, I don't consciously use my favorite authors as models for drafts. I might make note of some structural elements of a great memoir, like the way the author makes transitions between component stories, or uses flashbacks, and I might incorporate some of the ideas later, but my basic stories must flow as the land lies in my heart. They take shape as they pour forth, and as Jerry observed, when I am fully involved in transcribing a first draft, that thinking mind steps aside.

Whether you read memoir or fiction, other writers can inspire you to produce a more polished story along and remind you of stories you want to write, but those stories in your heart must take on their natural form as they emerge. That basic draft is the marble from which the statue is sculpted, and the inspiration you get from reading other authors primarily comes into play during this sculpting process.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Jerry Waxler said...

Hi Sharon, I've always looked longingly when two band members start riffing off of each other's music. It looks like one of the coolest things in the world, and I think your blog has given me my first taste of what that might feel like. Yes, as you say, you can learn wordcrafting, structuring, almost anything. Even the whole notion of what a story is. It's all out there in plain sight. The closer we look at what pleases us the better able we are to pass it on to our readers.
Best wishes, Jerry

Anonymous said...

As a photographer I often recall the phrase; A picture is worth a thosand words. I consider all the elements in my frame and ask if the thousand words are present before I push the shutter release. When I write I try to consider the picture I'm trying to create before the final period is in place. Sometimes black and white is the best choice for the picture to make the desired impact. Sometimes fewer words make the boldest statement. You can't have all 32 flavors on your cone, but it is fun trying to make the right two or three choices. You see what others have dipped up, but you choose what suits your taste.

Bhaswati said...

Excellent post, Sharon. As someone who is writing her memoir (my first attempt at it), I couldn't agree more with you about the creation process. That's never shaped by anything other than what pours out from within one's reserves. The chiseling, as you say, can be influenced by writers whose work you admire, consciously or unconsciously. But the initial process is almost an organic transfer of one's thoughts onto paper.