Writing as Witness in The New Year

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 8:00am

Here is a task for The New Year: welcome in the cloud of loving witnesses around you. Imagine the writers you most admire gathered around you and shared their wisdom and knowledge. Begin to feel the gears, levers and inner workings of these authors.

Pick up Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, pull apart her language. Look at how she is able to put together the entire story in one sentence? “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Look at Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and notice how she writes in the third person, yet manages to make us feel closer to Thomas Cromwell over any of the other characters. Can you figure out how she does this?

One of the higher level assignments in Method Writing is to spend a semester writing like an author you admire. I taught a class on this over the summer. One student pulled a collection of Eudora Welty short stories off her shelves. She hadn’t opened the book since her college days at Wellesley. She’s a fast talking East Coast super successful executive. What an interesting experiment for her to slow down and imitate the southern rhythms of Welty. Doing so opened up a space in her mind. Another student, a lyrical poet from West Virginia, began to read the poetry of Frank O’Hara. The rhythm and beat of O’Hara’s tone enlivened her own work. New York City meets West Virginia.

I invite you to try this exercise:

Open a page of your favorite novel, memoir of turn to one of your favorite poems. Read aloud. Get the beat of the language. Imitate. Or steal, as Austin Kleon encourages.