Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Messy Writing

I was reading a literary magazine called Burnside Review and came across a story called “Subterranean Lovesick Blues” by a writer named Nick Ekkizogloy. The first sentence goes like this: “I asked permission to bury my broke-down Ford Taurus by kneeling at Sandy's grave and laughing like a maniac.” I was immediately captivated, not least because I had to read it a couple of times.

Sometimes I worry that teaching English composition is going to destroy my writing. There’s almost always a “right” way to write a composition. Grammatical rules need to be followed. Strange syntax should be avoided. Subjects and verbs, pronouns and antecedents should all be in agreement. And I’m a believer in those guidelines and rules because students should learn basic communication.

This kind of writing is informative. It’s communicative. But it’s rarely transformative. It serves a purpose in the world and it needs to do so efficiently and effectively.

Fiction, on the other hand, (or creative nonfiction for that matter) does not need to be efficient. It can be messy, confusing, idiosyncratic. When we read this messy writing, we wonder, now who is Sandy? What grave? And how is laughing like a maniac asking permission? I’m going to keep reading to try to find the answers. If I don’t find the answers, I don’t worry much because the writing surprises me. Somewhere in those surprising turns of language there is meaning that may not be easily articulated but that gets absorbed into the blood.

When we do transformative writing workshops, the writing usually has a raw power that you don’t find in a piece of writing that’s been burnished and had all its edges scraped off. That’s because we write in ten to fifteen minutes spurts. The words tumble out on top of each other. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the rewrite and the revision, but there’s usually something in that original chaos that’s worth saving, something that gives life to the whole piece.

Writing that is alive is transformative. It can’t help but be.

WIY: For your next piece of writing, embrace the absurd. Eschew the rules of grammar. Purposely scramble the words. (But not too purposefully.) Make up words. (Remember “The Jabberwocky”?) Let verbs be nouns and nouns be verbs. You’re just playing. Don’t worry. You can go back and “fix” it later, but in the meantime surprise yourself.

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