Monday, January 09, 2012

The Long and Short of Writing Practice

Via A long sentence is worth the read --by Pico Iyer.

Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker. Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can't be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won't be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we're taken further and further from trite conclusions--or that at least is the hope--and away from reductionism....

Years of writing technical and scientific papers matched with my current practice of Web writing have coached me to appreciate the short and succinct, but my own prose runs to the baroque and confusing. I look forward to Sherry's and Dave's 140-character word snapshots, and I spent some time considering joining the River of Stones project, but my trite attempts seem more like "sound bites" and "bumper stickers" than Fiona's mindful writing practice:

A small stone is a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment. There are no strict rules for what makes a piece of writing a small stone, as there are for forms such as haiku. The process of finding small stones is as important as the finished product--searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.

I truly appreciate well-written instruction manuals, field guides, taxonomic descriptions, and crochet patterns. I reread Elizabeth Zimmermann's knitting books just for fun as often as I refer to them for techniques. They are special because they offer a little more than bare-bones instructions, but not so much blather that you lose track of the procedure. (I'm afraid my own instructions are blather-heavy.) I'm skilled with observation of detail, but haiku writing appears to be contrary to my nature. Pico Iyer gives me hope for when he says "...[T]he promise of the long sentence is that it will take you beyond the known, far from shore, into depths and mysteries you can't get your mind, or most of your words, around."

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