Words of Wisdom Right from the Source

Many writers read and analyze the words of great literature, but just recently, I found that noticing the techniques of peers, students, and workshops participants can be just as valuable. As a writing consultant, first-year writing professor, and writing workshop leader, I actually have more contact with the words, sentences, paragraphs, and essays of blossoming writers than I have with the treasured prose and poetry of bestselling authors or literary masters. So this fall, along with turning autumn leaves, I turned over a new leaf in regards to whose work I read and how I read it in order for me to grow as a writer.

For example, senior writers who attend a workshop I help to facilitate were learning how to annotate a text—a very academic reading technique.  In order to demonstrate note taking, questioning, and critiquing of writing using sticky notes, I used a published volume of their short memoirs from their last session.  I applied the same questioning, probing, and just enjoying well-written prose to their writing as I have done in my literature classes. The results were amazing! Here are some of my notations:

 “Writing about a peaceful place is juxtaposed with the struggles of how the writer arrived there.”

“The writer conveyed a feeling of movement in this piece—talking, walking, working, traveling—just like life itself moves.”

“This essay captured the promise and uncertainty of love, and interjected suspense and mystery to add even more tension.”

“The writer takes time to include the emotions and feelings of others; this expands the memoir beyond the “I.”

“The twist at the end enhances the irony and frustration noticed throughout the story.”

“The woman’s life was fulfilling, but constrained by time, place, gender, and circumstance.”

“This piece evokes loss, hope, sadness, and elation, but the writer never used those words—these feelings were told entirely through the story and characters.

In my own writing, would I like to use juxtaposition, movement, mystery, emotions, irony, and powerful storytelling? Of course! Have I learned these literary techniques from Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Austin, Alcott, and Plath? Certainly! But, this season, I will continue to learn from each writer I meet—because I am their reader, and because what they have to say in their writing does matter…and because it is worth my time to read it with care. 

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