…because some thoughts are worth remembering
A friend of mine teaches English at a high school whose class was fortunate to receive a response letter from author George Saunders, who provided the following hint in expanding ideas by treating them as “language nuggets”:
“One trick, for beginning writers, I think, is to not think of it in terms of ‘ideas’, but as little ‘language nuggets’. That takes the pressure off. I am just trying to find an amusing or vivid bit of language, and then polish it, according to my tastes of the moment. Then that moment will imply another—and pretty soon you have a story. You write, ‘Once there was a man who was so mean.’ And as a sentence, that is lacking. So you say to yourself, ‘Please provide an example.’ And you write ‘Once there was a man who kicked a dog.’ And suddenly a man starts to emerge. (And a dog. And a kick.) And then you ask, ‘Why did he do that?’ And you write: ‘On the day his wife died, Ron kicked his dog, Buster, who he loved dearly.’ And now we are into something bigger and more complicated. Ron is beginning to be a ‘character’. But we didn’t get there by deciding what sort of character he was going to be—we did it by trying to make our sentence better.“
[emphasis added by me]
Are good writers good because they are also good thinkers? Do good thinkers write in a way that help others be better thinkers? Because George Saunders note to my friend’s English class got me thinking beyond techniques in creative writing (which in itself was a gem).
Two other lessons learned that’s applicable to disciplines beyond creative writing:
I appreciate someone whose profession is to create develops, practices and embraces certain techniques, because in the world that tends to more easily see dichotomy and differences than unity and similarities, techniques is often viewed as dampening creativity. Truly creative people, regardless of their discipline, talk about their process as problem solving, another word we tend to place in a different category.
I hope the students, if not now, will one day put Saunders’ technique and insights to practice in whatever discipline they choose to excel in.
Photo: Cadillac Farm outside of Amarillo, Texas, where George Saunders was born.