22 January 2016

Quality Assurance by Soramimi Hanarejima (a guest post on writing)

Once again I'm delighted to welcome Soramimi Hanarejima back to the blog this week. Soramimi is intensely interested in the how, why, and what of creativity. His first post, "Where Creativity Meets Productivity," explored the How: natural tendencies, rhythms, and habits that writers can foster to maximize productivity during our writing time. In his second post, "The Purposeful Writer: Creative Writing Meets the Golden Circle," he explored the advantages to articulating our Why for writing. In the third and final post in this series, Soramimi discusses the What. In his own words: "How do we make sure that what we are producing—what’s on the page—really shines?"

Quality Assurance
by Soramimi Hanarejima

…we have to use the right words and the right words in the best order.—David Morley

Writing consists of a multitude of individual decisions, massive and complex control of language in depth and considerable personal responsibility…—A.L. Kennedy

A coherent text is a designed object… Like other designed objects, it comes about not by accident but by drafting a blueprint, attending to details, and maintaining a sense of harmony and balance.—Steven Pinker

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the importance of (a) identifying the fundamental impetus behind one’s writing and (b) the importance of regularly, effectively acting upon that impetus.

A writer who has grappled with these knows why she writes and how to get crucial work done, but how does she ensure that her work is in the end truly excellent? Her Why, the deep motivation driving her work, provides some assistance here; her work may be falling short because it isn’t channeling her Why as fully as it could. But clarity of intentions alone can’t keep the caliber of one’s writing reliably high. Writers need to have specific skills and resources to firmly establish the quality of their work. This brings us to the final part of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle: Consistency of What. How do we make sure that what we are producing—what’s on the page—really shines?

And this at last brings us to craft, the part of writing we typically focus on in workshops and discussions. In fact, craft may often be what we mean when think or talk about writing. Craft gives our writing the form it needs to reach a high caliber of expressiveness and thereby resonance with the audience. As Alexander Steele says in Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide, “By craft we mean the time-tested practices that have proven helpful to the construction of good fiction.” So it’s no wonder our efforts in developing as writers are so focused around craft. One could have amazing motivations and fantastic work habits to act upon those motivations, but that won’t yield solid work without mastery of craft. Given the importance and concreteness of craft, there is no shortage of workshops and classes that engage it.

No temporal or financial wherewithal for a writing workshop? No problem. Here are some schedule-friendly, budget-friendly resources that brilliantly address craft to help you tune facets of the work you’re producing.

The Writing Challenges podcast—David Morley has a knack for putting one into the frame of mind for excellent storytelling, and in each episode, he compactly and compellingly addresses a particular element of fiction writing.

The Making of a Story—Essentially a writing workshop in a book, this tome by Alice LaPlante feels as comprehensive as it gets with clear definitions and thorough analyses of examples.

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide—In a more travel-friendly form factor, this highly readable and actionable book from Gotham Writer’s Workshop gathers insightful perspectives from a variety of authors. 

The Sense of Style—If you want to know how the structure of written language works to communicate ideas effectively, Steven Pinker lays it all out in this book. 

All of these resources make astute observations and effective recommendations on creative writing at the level of words on a page.

If you can set aside part of a day at some point to participate in a one-time workshop, organizations like GrubStreet offer numerous opportunities to learn from fantastic instructors. If you can spare a few days and some cash, consider attending a conference like GrubStreet’s fantastic annual event The Muse and The Marketplace. Nuggets you pick up in those energetic, enriching environments might just last a lifetime. I constantly refer back to advice from a conference session led by Cara Blue Adams: remember that three crucial elements make fiction compelling: vividness, urgency & momentum, and depth. When chosen carefully and engaged thoughtfully, a one-time workshop or conference can be temporally and financially cost effective, providing helpful, even refreshing insight.

Amazing books and mind-expanding writing classes, however, will only take us so far. Editing is invaluable in checking whether the skills we have cultivated and put to use are hitting the mark to truly serve our ideas and audience. Here I defer to Peter Selgin, who says in Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide, “The ultimate solution is to get help, that is, if you’re lucky enough to know a sympathetic reader who is also a skilled editor. By sympathetic I mean sympathetic to your intentions as well as to your overall style.” (Work with Sione and you are that lucky.) Occasionally, working with an editor will just validate your prowess of craft (which I think is still necessary even if you know every sentence you’ve written is golden); otherwise editing alerts you to instances when craft falls short of your ambitions—what Todd Henry calls “the aspiration gap” playing out on a small scale.

In recent years, I’ve been delightfully surprised by the remarkable role each of these resources has played in transforming my perspectives on and engagement of craft. Together, they form a playlist of my favorite sources of guidance, a playlist that I often leave on repeat and shuffle to remind myself what to work on and how. But you don’t have to use any of my faves. Here I invoke designer Bruce Mau’s maxim “Begin Anywhere” to close. To craft fiction ever more adeptly, just start somewhere. Focus on vividness, honing your descriptive prowess to pull readers into a world of selectively, keenly rendered sensory detail. Seek feedback on voice from supportive friends. Take the plunge into manuscript consultations. Wrangle the unruliest of sentences into the utmost clarity. Pick one thing. Nail it. Then keep going.

Photo credit: Soramimi Hanarejima
Soramimi Hanarejima (http://cognitivecollage.net) is the author of story collections that will be published by Zoetic Press and Montag Press Collective. In addition to writing fanciful short fiction, Soramimi works on information design projects that seek to visually communicate aspects of subjective experiences.

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