Étude for Writers (No. 2)

Page Dancing


When I write, I listen to music. Or, more correctly, when I listen to music, I write.


Adulthood CONFIDENTIAL! A Word of One’s Own at the Gates of the Secret City


You’re never in repose, you see. Because you’re writing, or thinking about writing, or you have written, and now need sleep. Read on, Reader!

Reading Poetry in the Big Chief Years


When people confide in me that they don’t read poetry, that they are uncomfortable reading poetry, I smile and I nod. 

I smile and nod to the poetry-shy because my sense of poetry is that it is a language within a language.   And, like any language, poetry requires a certain amount of immersion in order to absorb it into your skin.

In fact, I consider poetry to be my first language— one I absorbed early and thoroughly and messily.
I learned to read at the age of three.  Alongside picture books, I read pastoral and magical poems popular at the turn of the nineteenth century.   Poems stuffed to the rafters with elves and candlesticks and little girls with ironed ruffled nightgowns and ribbons in their hair. 

I listened to my grandparents recite famous poems in their mesquite honey voices.  Children of my grandparents generation memorized poems for school. My grandparents could and did recite, spontaneously, whole selections from Wordsworth and Longfellow— which still impresses me.

My mother knew musical theater. She taught me pacing and timing and harmony.  We sang rounds.  We sang in other languages.  We made up songs.  More to the point, my mother commuted a great deal and she did not have a radio in the car for many years. So, of course, we sang.

Bit by bit, all of my natural senses were exposed to the building blocks that make poetry.
What I don’t know, really, is how I made the leap from understanding poetry as a story— a short, tiny little story— to understanding poetry as this greater construct of tones and moods that did not require traditional narrative.  I do know that the poem that unlocked this door for me was “Fog” by Carl Sandburg—


The fog comes

on little cat feet.
 Read on, Reader!

Feeling Your Way Through A Newly Darkened Room (A List)

Herring Boat - Gratti

This is what it is like— every time.   

A question will come to you—  a question without an easy answer. 

It will flit past your eyes like a large black moth. 

But, you must catch it lightly— your own hands are too heavy for a new question.

Carefully now.  Carefully.
Your new idea sits on a yellow scrap of paper in your pocket. 

It burns.  It glows. 

You forget it is there for a day, maybe two, and the third day you wake up.

You know what you must do.
You buy a notebook from the corner store— a marbled composition notebook with saddle stitching.

You pay for your notebook with old change.  The girl behind the counter makes a pretty little joke and you laugh.

She doesn’t know you are rowing farther and farther away from shore.

You laugh because you’re polite.

Your oars dip into the water.   You pull with all your weight.  Your idea is taking you far away.

This part, you will only remember two years from now.
You pull out that tiny yellow scrap of a question from your pocket.  You wipe the lint from its face, and pin it to the wall.

You pull the notebook from your knapsack.  You crack its spine to open it up to the story.

That’s what you’re doing, you know.  You’re going to tell a story.

Things are moving quickly now.
A year later. 

You look around.  The notebook is filled with graffiti from your first idea.

The face of the notebook is gouged and scarred.  One cardboard ear is pinned back.

The scrap of yellow paper on the wall is surrounded with a thousand others …. Read on, Reader!

Our Sunday Best: Who Is Driving This Story, Anyway? POV in Writing

C.W.A.Scott Binoculars

I crave books I love the way I crave certain foods.   I will stop cold in the middle of a task during the day with a single line from a novel or poem written in fire over my head, and the craving is so strong that I know, before the day is out, I will have that book tucked open in my right hand as neatly, and as tightly as a well-made bed.

The moment that drives my ordinary reader’s desire into the swerve of a bibliophilic craving is the artistry of the writing itself. (There are stories, and there are stories, after all.) What keeps me turning pages is my fascination with the person (or persons) whose story is being told.

But who is telling the story?

I’m not talking about the writer/author, per se.

(We know s/he is telling the story— sometimes s/he tells us right in the middle of the story— disruptively— but we’ll get into the fiddly bits of postmodern literature in just a bit.)

What I’m trying to ask you here is who is the actual voice telling you the story?

POV, or point-of-view, is one of the most necessary structural details you need to consider as you prepare to write your own stories.

Because, for every story, there are a thousand, thousand ways to use POV as one of the pistons pulling the action and motivation and meaning along.

There are no shortcuts to figuring out the POV question to help you sort out the structural details of your story.   

What should be helpful is to know what your options are in the POV world.   (Some structural details of a novel are setting, plot, tense, time frame and so on. There are many architectural elements necessary to provide your novel with a solid structure, but POV …. Read on, Reader!

Bathing in the Flames of the Fire I Built

Proud as...

One of the singular pleasures of my life is laying up in bed with the lamp on, reading a book. 

I’ll read anywhere I’m put.  

But my first instinct when I have a book in my hand is to get horizontal— floor, bed, couch— any flat surface will do me.

I’ll even take a bench if that’s all there is, and I’ll tuck my elbow behind my ear to keep from getting one of those hard bench headaches.

Two or three days ago, I found myself horizontal and sideways on the bed and reading— with a stomachache.  I pulled up my knees and yanked up the sheets.  One hand absently rested above my abdomen. 

The book on the bed that day was Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners:  Occasional Prose.

I don’t know what you’ve read by O’Connor, but she’s an American writer from the South— one of the writers who got lumped in with the New Gothic Fiction crowd back in the 1940s.  

As a further insult, she got lambasted for about everything you can think of that doesn’t sound useful.

Critics took her down for being too Southern, too grotesque, too darkly comic, too religious (She was Catholic.), not religious enough, too accessible, and too inaccessible.

Oh— and mean.  The critics loved to call her mean.

Nobody was thrilled with the fact that she was a woman, writing, either, but in those days, being a woman was an ongoing insult no matter what you did.

Besides putting up with critics, O’Connor had lupus, early, hard and young. (She died at the age of 39.)

That gal really couldn’t win for losing.


She could write.  Better than me, anyway.  Better than most people, living or dead.

It’s the …. Read on, Reader!