A Meditation on Structure and Tumbling Words

October 27, 2015 § 17 Comments


A guest post from Ann V.  Klotz:

Ann V. Klotz

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.

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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.

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§ 17 Responses to A Meditation on Structure and Tumbling Words

  • Janice Gary says:

    “I have hid out in the writing.” I love this. Lyrical writing can be so sweet and satisfying to read and write. When I write, I’ve learned I have to find balance between the delicious joy of lyricism and the grounding anchor of craft and structure. You’ve done a wonderful job of that here.

  • Like you, I have felt more ‘permitted’ to write when involved in a formal writing workshop. But lately, I think of it as a positive, the occasional opportunity to be a student again for a short, intensive period and grab all the valuable info provided.

    • Ann V. Klotz says:

      Being a student nowadays feels like such a luxury–all we have to be in charge of is ourselves, right? Thank you, Marsha. Ann

  • I to at times start in the middle, and write as I see it in my mind, then revise. You mention many areas of writing we all struggle with. You have found success in publication in periodicals. I would like to read your work. I am taking a non fiction writing class with Valley Haggard, a second time. I hope to gain confidence, growth, and shed the guilt of writing. Your post was enlightening, and gave me something to consider regarding structure and getting back into the taste and feel of my words. Less lyrical, though many prefer to read lyrical writing. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • Great essay, Ann! Structure is and has been the greatest challenge for me. After a week and half of writing residency I’m still making charts and outlines and working on “what is this [part of the] story REALLY about?”

    • Ann V. Klotz says:

      Oh, Irene, whose writing I admire so much, I am so appreciative of your kind comment–am living vicariously through your residency! avk

  • Oh apricot paste on my tongue! Be addicted to the letter C and to starting in the middle, let’s be lyrical together. I understand 100% and you, dear woman, who I’d love to meet and write with some day, have given me permission to start where I am, again, in the middle. xoxoxS

    • Ann V. Klotz says:

      Judy, thank YOU. Last spring, I bought some Turkish Delight and a water bottle spilled in my bag–the resulting soggy candy was very sad. Maybe we can’t go home again, except in our writing!

  • Great essay , I have thinking about writing too , now I am inspired x

  • Judy Millar says:

    Thank you for this Turkish-delight of an essay, Ann! I’ll carry the letter C tip away with me, and more.

  • Allison K Williams says:

    This is terrific and exactly what I needed this morning – and thanks for the shout-out!

    • Ann V. Klotz says:

      Perhaps someday, I will be able to convey to you and to DM, my gratitude for the time you offered us at Kenyon! Hugs.

  • “In summer, writing is my refuge.” That is true for me too Ann. And I am working on structure, focusing on shorter work this summer.

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