Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Writing: Gathering Stems and Branches

There's a writing project I want to start in on. I spent the first part of the morning going through and marking entries in my handwritten journal going back around six years. Marking things I'd written out, but never turned into anything. Some of those pages can be the partial seed of what I want to write now. Formally, zuihitsu, a compilation of things written following the brush. "Twenty-Four Views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai." Modular. Fragmentary. Linked by mood, topic, tone. Memory books. Pillow Books.

Went into my library to pull out and re-read, or at least skim, some touchstones for what I want to do. Saikaku. The Great Mirror of Male Love. Kenko. Essays In Idleness. Other more modern examples of the form, which after all is an infinitely malleable form. Basho. Oku no hosomichi.

Writing this project will be partially rewriting bits and pieces scattered here and there, bringing them together, making a larger work out of them. Maybe chapbook sized. I'm a good prose writer, although I don't have much ear for fiction. Creative nonfiction is also storytelling, though. I can invent and write if I allow myself to fiction as storytelling, and not wedded to that boring No-Style Style that dominates so much fiction nowadays, the so-called "plain" style.

In reading a literary biography of Roger Zelazny, which I acquired recently, I realize how much he influenced me as a writer of prose. As the book points out, spending a whole chapter on the topic, Zelazny's prose style was always poetic, laced with poetry, frequently requiring a bit of work to get into, but one it revealed itself, sublime. His short "experimental" novel Creatures of Light and Darkness is astounding. It should be taught alongside Wallace Stevens.

That's the only kind of prose fiction I can see myself actually writing: prose fiction that doesn't read like prose fiction. And his short stories, always poetic and sometimes heartbreakingly powerful. Poetic prose that is often oblique, rarely plain.

After reading through old journals this morning, I wrote some notes for what I want to do. Not an outline, never that, just the rule-set for this particular game. Once you write the melody, you improvise around it. Writing prose, for me, to be interesting at all has to be more like jazz, knowing sort of where I'm going but it's 32 bars ahead so take your time and explore the path meanwhile.

This writing project does fall in the category of being prompted, which I know is how I work best. I do well when someone asks me for a piece. Otherwise, I can be lazy, and never get around to it. I love having a deadline, and a goal, and a completion date. I actually work well under deadline pressure.

I also work well when I'm not trying to do anything. When I'm out on a roadtrip, for example, where on those long drives across the land, I do some of my best thinking, and write in my handwritten journal at night, and sometimes in the morning, about whatever I'm experiencing, or thinking about. That's how the elements of the longer haibun sequences of Basin and Range were written, compiled later at home. I scatter a lot of short bits off the back of the wagon, when I roam, and sometimes they add up later.

I'm still gathering. After weeks of thinking about it, at least there's a goal. Awareness of approaching deadlines is my goad. Meanwhile, just keep gathering these loose stems and branches, to build them, and fire them. Ashes and raku to emerge.

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