Tomorrow I am going to give a workshop on revision and synthesis. Of course, this is for a nursing class and the type of writing they are doing is rigid and formulaic, so it’s tough for me to talk about flow and creativity and story as it relates to writing in general. I’ve given this workshop many times, and each time I find myself getting, as the students might say, “too creative.”
Here’s an example: Just a few minutes ago I put the finishing touches on a PowerPoint that breaks down a single paragraph. Tomorrow I will walk the students through the way that paragraph was built, how each sentence moves into the next and how the reader is easily able to discern the author’s pattern of thought and logic. I will talk to them about story, about the way the paragraph flows from beginning to end. I will use the language I know to explain what, to these students, is a pretty difficult concept.
So how does this relate to my writing? Well, for one it’s caused me to put off working on Acceptance tonight, and I don’t like that. But, as my friend John Paul once told me, “you have to steal the time” to write.
But what I said about the workshop applies in other ways, too. I have thought a lot about linearity and how it will not work with Acceptance—neither as a form nor a process. Yet I am teaching students to write linearly, to flow from one sentence to the next, one idea moving into the next. But the thing is, when you break that sample paragraph down, you see that the ideas were not created in that order. They weren’t even created by the same person. Within that one paragraph you have the ideas of the student, their evidence (which can date back as far as ten years), and a textbook (edited in 2010). Really, they’re just fitting puzzle pieces together.
I’m doing the same thing, but in a very different way.
I was telling someone about the process I am taking with this project, and how different it is from the way I approach short stories. Much of this project has already been written, and much of it was written over the course of the past seven years. I am using my old journal entries as found text, and many of those entries are more than five years old. But I don’t have pages to show for this. I can’t say, “look, see this? This is my book in progress.” Each journal entry is a separate file on my laptop and each one must be read and considered and processed. I rewrite, change the voice or point of view, condense, extract, add wherever necessary and then mold it into prose and haiku. It is not at all systematic, and once the prose is put together it can’t be pulled apart in such a way that you can see its original intentions. In fact, were one to pull the prose apart and examine it, I don’t think much, if any of the original intent would be visible. I like that.
I have spent much of tonight preparing to preach something I refuse to practice. Tomorrow morning I will lead a workshop on stacking bricks. Tomorrow night I will come home and I will sit at my desk and I will smash hunks of clay together and tear parts of them away, and bits of clay might fall away and stain my shirt or stick to my shoes or hair. But what remains on the desk, in whatever form it decides to take, that is the stuff I will keep.