I’m a fiend for writing advice.
A goddamn fiend.
I love reading about the craft of writing. Whether it’s how to plot successful stories, craft great characters, or even honing and sharpen sentences–I’m all in.
However, I know myself well enough to know when I’ve had too much of a good thing.
Yesterday I reread the amazing ‘The Sentence is a Lonely Place’ by Gary Lutz.
In it he talks about a writer’s anxiety to move away from the claustrophobia of the sentence onto the next one and ultimately leave behind pages of unfulfilled prose.
The sentence, with its narrow typographical confines, is a lonely place, the loneliest place for a writer, and the temptation for the writer to get out of one sentence as soon as possible and get going on the next sentence is entirely understandable. In fact, the conditions in just about any sentence soon enough become (shall we admit it?) claustrophobic, inhospitable, even hellish. But too often our habitual and hasty breaking away from one sentence to another results in sentences that remain undeveloped parcels of literary real estate, sentences that do not feel fully inhabitated and settled in by language.Gary Lutz, The Sentence is a Lonely Place, The Believer
After reading George Saunders’ Paris Review interview earlier in the week, I’d started playing around with words more and trying to figure out how I could be a better writer on the sentence level. So Lutz’s essay really spoke to how I was feeling.
Writing was, for yet another reason, becoming great fun… This particular joy kept up for about three days.
But then I was rereading parts of A Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. It’s a sort of 21st century writing guide on quality prose and what makes it so. I also skimmed back through Palahniuk’s Consider This last night just to see what he said on sentences (a lot, unsurprisingly!).
All this would have been fine by itself. Clustered together, however, it came to a head this morning.
I started rereading a passage I’d been working on from an opening chapter and I just couldn’t get past it.
So far, so normal.
I read, reread, moved things around, edited, reread, edited, read under my breath, edited, finally at last moved past it only to come back later on (30 seconds maybe) thinking about a million questions which don’t really need answering in the drafting stage I’m currently in.
Does that sentence use assonance in a subtle way? How could I double up the l and k sound here? Is there tension within the scene, what about the pacing? Are there enough stressed syllables in the sentence? And so on, and on, ad nauseam.
The claustrophobia was now firmly in my own head which should really be the most wide open space.
I stopped writing. Stepped away from my computer and assessed my problem.
A brain-cleanse is in order. I’m not sure what that would entail (is there a brain scrub on the market?) But it’s a comin’.
After that I can get back to what I like best.
2 thoughts on “too much of a good thing”
Interesting. Perhaps that excerpt by Lutz matters more during the editing phase than the drafting? I myself tend to go by feel, and I know that it’s not really the best way to go about the craft, but I write more with my ears than with technical knowledge, and have never experience what you did—my writing never seems just right to me. Anyway, thanks for sharing this interesting post!
Hey Stuart, yeah, you’re absolutely right it’s totally an editing thing and I’ve just been getting a bit too caught up in it lately, at a far earlier stage than I should be. Trying to juggle all those “Writer Techniques” while I’m just trying to make a story that’s fun and engaging is clogging me up creatively. So, when you say you write by feel I think that’s perfect. That’s what keeps the creation process fun and arguably a lot more authentic. Glad you enjoyed the post!