In an always-on age where the appetite for content is voracious and insatiable, how is a writer to get and keep the creative edge? One way is to mix genres. The lines between creative nonfiction, memoir and essay have already blurred — and the trend will continue — so why not push the boundaries? You could mix media — add photography, film, voice and music to the work for texture. The art world is seeing ever more of this; literary journals advocate it, too.
But what about prose? The words that create our characters and their stories? Under all the glottal glitz and glam are words. And words still — and always will — matter. One of the best ways to improve as a writer — even in a viral, virtual world — is not just to read well and widely (including off the bestseller lists), but to read poetry and read it regularly.
I read some of my favorite poets — Cortney Davis, Charles Rafferty and Jean Sands — almost daily. Why? Because poets think differently, see the world differently and strive to portray that world with precision and emotional richness.
Consider this, from "The Dishwasher," by Charles Rafferty, The Man on the Tower:
"I've tasted the ruby of wine
at the bottom
of a stranger's glass.
And I've learned how to like the house bread
that no one seems to eat—
the hard little loaves that taste like dust
and crumble to shale when you butter them."
It's the word choices, the position of the words, the line breaks, the imagery the story — can you not taste the dust in that shale and feel the price, as well as the necessity, of compromise? It's the world in microcosm. Presented in an emotional feast.
I have my favorite poets. You'll have yours. Ferret them out, mull over their word choices, research the words you don't know. Don't be content with the denotation; linger in the connotation, too. Immerse yourself in the language, lose yourself in the imagery they create. Scrutinize the positioning of the text. Scope out their world in microcosm. In a word, don't be passive about reading or writing. Don't glom on to the latest gimmick. Be creative, original, unique. As you are.
"What I really like in a book is the sense that the writing is itself entertaining, or interesting, or it makes you want to read a sentence twice." John Updike from Writers on Writing
Tip: Take a paragraph from a current writing project — current because your style will have evolved — and recreate it using the principles above. Don't rush. Take a few days, a week, longer. Enjoy fashioning it anew. It's spring, after all.