A Meditation on Structure and Tumbling Words
October 27, 2015 § 17 Comments
A guest post from Ann V. Klotz:
Form follows function. Except when it doesn’t.
I write the way I think and speak.
My husband says I often begin in the middle.
Any self-analysis of my process suggests I write as the thoughts appear in my head, so I think real structure has to come later as a piece of deliberate revision—that is not cheating, right? Shape arrives after the initial tumble of words from my head to my fingers to the page. I think about “beads on a string,” trying to drop some of the same images or color in along the way, but that’s less form than content, I think. It entertains me to do that; it entertains me to revise. Once, a writing teacher told me I was too lyrical.
I have given myself over to fantasies over the course of a remarkable online writing course I’m taking—one fantasy centers on publishing the essays I have started—it feels slightly dangerous to have such a big dream without any clue about how to achieve it. A writer friend said recently that I will never publish a memoir until I am published in some reputable journals. Define reputable. It was a throwaway comment, but true, I expect. I don’t make my living as a writer. I run a school. write in the spaces in between. How do I discover journals that will like my work?
In summer, writing is my refuge—I’ve hid out in the writing, peeling back layers of my own past self, past families…and I don’t like that when it ends—the summer, not my past. Don’t like that I will feel less permission to go to my desk and write for me when the syllabus or workshop ends. Most of the time I write alone and trust my gut about what’s good enough—perhaps that’s why the class has felt like such a gift—to have others offer signposts.
Gifts. Unexpected gifts—words offered in response to our own words. I spend my life writing on 9th graders’ papers—with the clear understanding that they do NOT view my edits as gifts. Over and over again I implore them to use sensory detail in their personal writing, to eliminate adverbs, to structure a debatable thesis, to craft transitions, to pay attention to pronouns and to cross out helping verbs. It feels wrong, they say, to write analysis in the present. I nod sympathetically and tell them that’s the convention. They are unconvinced. I could record my voice offering the same comments on almost every paper. I coach Seniors on college essay—start with a great hook, cut to the chase, paint on a small canvas. But it is so, so different to be the writer in a workshop and not an English teacher. July felt addictive, marvelous, the way I felt once when I was about five and tasted Turkish Delight—a cube of solid fruit-flavored gelatin covered in powdered sugar. I adored it, and when the final sweetness has been swept by my tongue from the crevices of my mouth, I wanted more.
I like collage. I like lists. I like Joelle’s jewel-like essays, Kate’s meditations on mothering. I like the shape C—start, go backwards into the past, come round again. Allison taught us that two summers ago at the Kenyon Writing Workshop. Another gift. I like stitching bits together like a quilt. When I write plays, the characters occasionally take over—as if I am doing automatic writing—I have never told anyone that before. My characters may know more about structure than I do.
Ann V. Klotz is a teacher/writer/headmistress/mother. Her work has appeared in Mothers Always Write, The Legendary, Motherlode: An Anthology, and Independent School Magazine. She is a recent alum of Creative Nonfiction‘s Summer Bootcamp with Joelle Fraser and is studying now with Kate Hopper.