The Craft of Writing (while sick)

Apparently we caught something somewhere between St. Louis and San Francisco and Rachel and I are home sick for the second day in a row. The publications intern is ill as well, so our small but mighty office of three is down to one fearless wordsmith. God’s speed, Elizabeth! Actually, having a legitimate excuse to work from home is rather nice. It has given me a concentrated time to work on this comparative essay of Euripides’ Hippolytus (as well as his earlier Hippolytus Veiled), Seneca’s Phaedra, and Racine’s Phèdre I have had to put off for one reason or another. I am about to transition away from the depiction of Artemis exonerating the innocent Hippolytus at the end of the Euripides to the godless adaptation Seneca wrote 400+ years later. And I already know how I am going to segue from that segment to Racine’s politically charged telling! So, breaktime:

I like writing. Sometimes it feels like I imagine building a house would feel like: laborious but gratifying. Creative with an underlying logic. I was feeling this way a few weeks ago when I wrote that adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s A Hairy Ape. Despite my initial hesitation about the casting, the presentation went very well. Was it a successful adaptation? Yes, I think so. Was it a good play? Probably not. Was I proud of what I put up there despite that fact? Certainly. This paradox is one that I associate more with craftsmanship than artistry, which  requires more of a emotional investment. Right?

My favorite assignment from when I was teaching Freshman Writing a few years ago aimed at separating my students from their writing. This wasn’t so much about making them distinguish between the art of writing and the craft of writing as it was making them realize what lazy writers they had become in high school. They relied on a series of rhetorical defaults: phrases, words, and rhythms that had worked well enough in the past. I knew this because that is what I had done my first three years of undergrad. The actual file has since been lost (if I remember correctly, it was a last minute idea that I threw together on the computer in my shared office), but it began with the students free writing for 10 minutes which was then followed by 10 pages of guided deconstruction. How many periods did you use? How many semicolons? What is the average word count of each sentence? How many times do you use the word “and”? It was painstaking. They hated it. Then they loved it. Well, those who cared loved it. One of my best writers—who was on his way to becoming the editor of the school paper—thought it was the only useful moment in the semester, which may or may not have been true.

The whole term focused on one simple idea: writing is choice. I wonder now if I would amend that to say: writing is building with choices.


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