One of my lifetime writing goals is that every book I write should be the best book I've ever written, and in order to meet that goal, I set another goal for this year: to improve my writing from a craft perspective.
I've currently got a stack of books on my desk that I'm working my way through, and right now I'm in the middle of Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant's Write. Publish. Repeat. and Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft. Ursula K. LeGuin's book has actual writing exercises in it, and I thought I might share some of my attempts to pass this imaginary class I'm taking here, on my blog.
The first chapter in Steering the Craft (called Being Gorgeous) focuses primarily on the sound of words and the sound of language. She writes,
"The sound of the language is where it all begins. The test of a sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depend on these sounds and rhythms... The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the n ext sentence--to keep the story going. Forward movement, pace, and rhythm are words that are going to return often in this book. Pace and movement depend above all on rhythm, and the primary way you feel and control the rhythm of your prose is by hearing it--by listening to it." (page 1 - 2)
She goes on to quote passages from Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and Molly Glass, and recommends reading Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Kent Haruf's Plainsong, and Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs.
The two exercises in this chapter I combined into one slightly longer narrative. The first exercise is to write a page of narrative that is designed to be read aloud, but without using rhyme or meter. The second exercise is to describe an action or a person feeling a strong emotion and to make the rhythm and movement of the words represent the physical reality in the scene.
This, I would say, is the worst of my exercises so far. I find that I get better and better with each exercise that I do--I am able to let go more and not worry about the imposed structure, and to focus on the one skill that I am trying to improve. I like the first part, but I'm not as huge of a fan of the second part. This is something I plan to keep practicing.
Anyway, here it is!
Soaked. Completely soaked--my jeans, my shirt, my underwear. Even my brain felt wet. I stumbled forward with sand sticking--stuck--all over me, to my feet, my hands, my hair. And salt covered me too, almost sticky, a thin coating on every inch of skin.
Behind me, the waves crashed against one another and against the shore. The wind blew mightily; the palm trees creaked and bent in the face of its powerful gusts. Rain pelted my face so hard it stung, and the water in the air was so thick it was difficult to see in front of me. I slowly made my way up the sandy beach, grateful for the shore, the ground beneath my feet. But I had no idea when the storm would end, or at least calm to a steady rain or mist.
But I kept walking, up the beach, over the rocks, into the trees that groaned and screamed in agony. There were bushes of so many different varieties, and their leaves, too, swayed and waved. I pushed further and further inland, my legs sore, and my eyes burning, but all I could see were more rocks, more bushes, and more trees, swaying, swaying, swaying, back and forth, back and forth, to the rhythm of the storm, of the rain, of the wind.
I finally sank to my knees. There was nothing--no shelter, no food, no hope--and I was alone.
"Help," I whispered quietly.
[Part 2] And then the clouds broke! One thin ray of sunshine peeked through. I looked up and for a moment, the forest of palm trees was so beautiful--the greenest greens I'd ever seen, and the bluest blues. And there were flowers--periwinkle, magenta, vibrant orange--and I cried.
In the next moment, the sun was gone again, but I had seen an end, the end of the storm. I smiled and dragged myself to my feet. I would keep on for as long as the new found hope lasted. I would keep on.
For what it's worth, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft for anyone who wants to improve their writing from the ground up. She gives great advice in what I feel is a welcoming and open manner. Her writing makes me want to be friends with her in real life. If you want to listen to some interviews and whatnot with Ursula K LeGuin, find her on FindLectures!:)
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