This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.
– Lord Polonius in HAMLET
Now liking poetry wasn’t a thing most guys admitted to, growing up in my neighborhood in Poughkeepsie. Definite ‘fruity’ material, but there it is. I checked Kipling out of the library. I read Shakespeare. I took the time to figure out Prufrock. I even wrote an angsty teenage lament in the same style. (and I thank God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, and all the blessed saints that it’s lost and there are no surviving copies.) To this day, I still believe Tennyson’s ULYSSES is one of the greatest pieces of English language ever crafted. Read it out loud and you’ll hear what I mean. I have a steady diet of books on poets and poetry and am a fan of Slam-Poets like Taylor Mali and Anis Mojgani (Another A.M. and Another One.)
Each memorable verse of a true poet has two or three times the written content.
– Alfred de Musset
It’s not that I aspire to be Poet Laureate one day, (although, as far as goals go…) neither do I write poetry with any consistency, but as a writer, I’ve come to increasingly appreciate depth of meaning in economy of language. I say “increasingly” because a majority of the Writing Group material I encounter lately lacks this basic dynamic. I suspect it’s New-Writer Syndrome; the notion you have to construct sentences that ‘sound’ like prose, but more often than not, folks are simply putting three words where one would do. The result is constipated communication.
No No NaNoWriMo
I didn’t participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. No time. Other projects. But… I have attended local NaNo Meet and Greets twice prior, and both times the motivational speeches and little Ice Breaker Exercises focused exclusively on how to pad your Word Count. “Take this simple sentence and see how much you can inflate it. Free Pastry and Coffee for the one who has the most words at the end of five minutes. *giggle* Go!”
For God’s sake, I spend most of my writing time trying to do the opposite. Think about it: We all hate it when someone blathers one and on. After five minutes we’ve either turned the channel mentally or we’re seething inside, saying “Get to the Flipping Point, will you?” I’m hunting for that one Headshot word, not a Carpet-Bombing of Prose that hits everything but.
“Don’t Write Stuff people skip.”
That right there was one of the soundest pieces of Writing Advice I ever got. Not referring to Style or Subject preferences but the notion of Traction. Some clever author once said that when they sit down and look at their keyboard they’re reminded of something they heard at a horse track; when you look down at the betting list the names of the winners are right there in front of you. When I revise my own stuff, I constantly ask “What am I trying to say/show here?” and “Why is this even here?” If I don’t have a clear answer, if the material isn’t moving the story along towards the climax, it’s fat. Might be pretty fat, clever fat, cool fat, but it’s still fat. I have to cut it. That’s my goal; the right words in the right place. That’s the winner.
I’ll end with this recommendation: Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual. That little book ranks up there with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art as one of the most helpful in my pursuit to be a better writer and communicator. Get it for yourself for Christmas and read it before the New Year. You’ll be glad you did.
“First time I ever went into a library I was amazed. It was a kind of magical place I’d only ever read about in books.”
“I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.”
– Steven Wright