The claim that one is a writer presumes we know how to make sentences. A writer make sentences; an artist rewrites his sentences. The prerequisite is, of course, an idea. For the moment, we’ll set aside the protocol of grammar required for decoding our ideas. All to often, we start not with a real idea but a desire to write something meaningful. The result is pseudo-writing, rhythms with no underlying beat, adjectives and adverbs piled high, imagery that stretches beyond logic, plunging the reader into a world where frippery masks meaning.
Inauthentic Gives One a Headache
Aspiring to be more than a maker of sentences requires a level of personal honesty and integrity. The authentic is felt; the inauthentic gives one a headache. The responsibility of writing is something few people consider. People are attracted to the honest, the authentic, the unadorned. I know that is no explanation for reality television or Donald Trump; symptoms of insincerity can be compelling – like a four-car pileup.
When trying to corral that elusive voice, the journey starts with making sentences from those most personal of private places, your brain. It requires honesty and integrity to allow your connections and experiences to shape and reshape those ideas into sentences; call it the sense of sentences. Your voice emerges there.
I critiqued a short story for a fellow writer who expressed concern that holding to a single point of view in her story would somehow short-circuit her voice. She had received numerous criticisms of shifting point of view- head hopping. I told her point of view and voice were not interchangeable. Her voice would still shine through regardless of who’s point of view she chose for the story or chapter.
Sense and Sentences
Can this making sentences be practiced? Certainly. A good suggestion is to do it in your head and not on paper. You will be amazed by what you remember. Let the idea roll around. Phrase and rephrase the thought searching for that combination of words that truly embraces the thought. Keeping it in your head gives you the added perspective of editing. We learn to become comfortable in our own mind and comfortable that our thoughts and ideas can be changed, modified, even excised – easily! The byproduct from this process is discovery. I am stunned sometimes by connections I do make when allowing the ideas to rattle around inside.
I suspect this process would be valuable for those times when we are blocked. I know Gore Vidal said that only bad writers have blocks because they have nothing to say. The truth is sometimes the muse sleeps. Even the muse is not an Energizer Bunny; recharging is required. Sometimes you simply wear out a thought process or short-circuit the connectors. That’s not an indictment of talent; it’s talent at rest.
Then, when the sentence is worth inscribing, do so.
This process reminds me of a design professor I had in college who liked to say repeatedly “We don’t take time to think about the things we think about.” For the writer, this is an essential; this is what we do.