DECEMBER 2021 ISSUE | WestVirginiaVille.com
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PICTURE/SHOW: Losing yourself in Lost River
VIDEO: Harmonically urging Joe to back Build Back Better
ESSAY: The sink as a refuge of solitude & solidarity
RE/PRINT: Multifest still a beacon of the need for the Black press
ESSAY: Teach your children well — but not what to think
READ/UP: What we are reading—or what is reading us
RE/PRINT: ‘Desperate’ highlights clean water fight in WV coalfields
ROUND/UP: Storytelling from campfires to computers
RE/PRINT: State’s new vaccine law opens door to politicizing health
By Douglas John Imbrogno | WestVirginiaVille.com | december2021
Welcome to a compendium of encouragements, inspirations, and quotes from a lifetime of writing stories. I compiled these for folks who showed at a “Campfires to Computers” storytelling discussion at the Fall 2021 WV Writers Inc., conference in Huntington WV. I decided to leave this collection up and add to it periodically for anyone who writes, has begun to write, or dreams of writing.
Two words: Write on.
PS: Leave your own favorite writing quotes in the comments at bottom or via this site’s CONTACT page and they may make it onto this page, which I’ll as new inspirations and advice come along. I encourage you to subscribe to this website’s free email newsletter at WestVirginiaVille.substack.com. Part of this site’s mission, after all, is to lift up into view — out of the babble of verbiage flooding the World Wide Howl — superior writing with some connection to West Virginia, however slim.
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Consider, for instance, the lovely piece linked below, “Memory of a Waitress,” by West Virginia ex-pat Kit Thornton. He now calls Ecuador home and can spy the malecon jutting into the North Pacific, cigar in hand, from his veranda as he writes. Which is what all of us writers and wannabe writers should be doing.
Not smoking cigars, although I am good with that.
Into the Night
One night in West Texas, taking refuge from a motorcycle ride through buckets of rain, fleeing a broken heart, an empty diner ahead. A beaten-down waitress finally appears. Anything could happen.
READ ON: MEMOIR: ‘Memory of a Waitress’
If I Don’t Write
“I know that I can’t get along without writing. If I don’t write I feel, well, a kind of remorse, no?”
READ ON: Jorge Louis Borges, from The PARIS REVIEW, “The Art of Fiction,” Winter-Spring 1967
“Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost degree.”
— Ezra Pound
What Is So Difficult
A Few Words About Ulysses S. Grant
I wish to share something for anyone who wishes to be a student of better writing. The excerpt below comes from one of my favorite political commentators, Josh Marshall, editor of the essential, independent political website TalkingPointsMemo.com . Here, he explains why he feels Ulysses S. Grant was such a great writer as evidenced by the memoir he completed at his life’s end. His writing skill, Marshall suggests, arose from the pressing need to communicate clearly in the field as a military commander. Along the way, Marshall offers great insights for anyone who wishes to bring more vividness to their writing. While Marshall perhaps pitches this advice at those who write news, features and essays, there is insight worth plumbing for fiction and memoir writers, also.
JOSH MARSHALL: “The essence of all good writing is clarity. Style seems like a separate attribute of good writing. But it’s not. Style is really just a byproduct of clarity and concision. It is the personality or other uniqueness of the writer coming through on the page because they write clearly.
So how does one write clearly? The writing is the easier part of it. Once you know precisely what you mean to say, writing it is usually straightforward if not always easy. At least 90% of poor writing stems from the writer not knowing exactly what it is they mean to say. We’re all lazy like this. Half-formed thoughts pop into our heads and we push them out as words that have some relation to the hazy ideas and feelings in our minds. This may do in talking to your coworker or spouse about simple topics over the course of the day. The points are simple. In speaking, we have physical cues and intonation. If you’re not clear the first time you can try again.
Take a wordy or clumsy sentence you may write. Examine it and you will almost always see that it is wordy or clumsy because the idea is unclear in your head.~ Josh Marshall
Writing is different. If you are writing it down the ideas must be significant or else you wouldn’t be writing them down. You only have one shot to make your meaning clear. There is no follow-on interaction to fill in the gaps. Often what you mean to say is still more a feeling than a thought or a not fully worked through set of ideas and connections between them. Jargon and vaguenesses are added to the mix to cover spots in the writer’s thinking that aren’t clear in their own head. Or they paper over things the writer means but is not ready to say.
Take a wordy or clumsy sentence you may write. Examine it and you will almost always see that it is wordy or clumsy because the idea is unclear in your head. Fuzzy parts of your thinking, connections that don’t fully bear out or don’t connect in a clear way end up on the page in fuzzy or vague groupings of words. If you work at the idea in your head long enough that you know exactly what it is, precisely how one idea or action connects to the idea or actions that came before and after it, the language can be direct, brisk and clear. It all but writes itself … once you know precisely what you mean to say. Absent that clarity it never can because the language you use to express your ideas can never be clearer than the ideas or thoughts as they exist in your mind. Work over the ideas, how each connects to each other, the order and progression that connects them and the words will, largely, take care of themselves.
Clarity is simply taking the meaning in the writer’s head and conveying it as clearly as possible in words. This kind of directness is the power and force driving Grant’s “Memoirs.'”
Holding Your Hand, No. 1
“The most sincere poets want to hold your hand because, like you, we are also afraid of what we will find — some human horror too heinous to accept alone.
“And the opposite is also true: we’re terrified of finally finding that Beauty that is overwhelmingly simple because — in the midst of all these Hells — She actually exists.
“A hidden lapis amulet to ward off Death.
“I write because life is lonely and I want you there.”
~ ROBIN COSTE LEWIS, from the epilogue to “Voyage of the Stable Venus.”
Holding Your Hand, No. 2
“I am simply calling it The Book, without any epithets or qualifications, and in this sobriety there is a shade of helplessnss, a silent capitulation before the vastness of the transcendental, for no word, no allusion can adequately suggest the shiver of fear, the presentiment of a thing without name that exceeds all our capacity for wonder. How could an accumulation of adjectives or a richness of epithets help when one is faced with that splendid ferous thing? Besides, any true reader — and this story is only addressed to him — will understand me anyway when I look him straight in the eye and try to communicate my meaning. A short sharp look or a light clasp of his hand will stir him into awareness, and he will blink in rapture at the brilliance of The Book. For, under the imaginary table that separates me from my readers, don’t we secretly clasp each other’s hands?”
~ BRUNO SCHULZ, from “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass”
“Many novelists never give their heroes a square meal.”
~ RICHARD ELLMANN
Not to stand naked
“Oh, every thought that’s strung a knot in my mind
I might go insane if it couldn’t be sprung …
But it’s not to stand naked under unknowing eyes,
It’s for myself and my friends
My stories are sung ..”
~ BOB DYLAN, from “Restless Farewell”
“How many of you, I asked the people in my class, which of you want to give your lives and be writers.”
~ ANNIE DILLARD, from “Holy the Firm”
The Art of Science Fiction
TO BE CONTINUED …