I love Verlyn Klinkenborg. His very name, of course, but also the little essays he posts in the NY Times on his life in the country, which allow me to feel as if I, too, have crunched across the snow beneath a full moon, carrying an armload of wood, noting the tracks of the red fox and the screech of the owl, all while sitting on my suburban couch with my Ikea aghan and glass of red wine.
And I adored his one novel, “Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile”, again for that name but more for the voice of the tortoise, a far-from-abject fellow whose powers of observation and patience I can only envy.
Now Klinkenborg has a new book, “Several Short Sentences About Writing”. So far I’ve only dipped into it, which I don’t think he’d mind. It seems meant to fall open anywhere to a koan-like nugget of advice or wisdom. There’s a wince-inducing section where he analyzes weak sentences. Sentences! The book takes up for them. For each one standing bravely on its own, no matter what comes before or after it. All the vitality and meaning a piece possesses begins there.
To be truthful, I’m almost afraid to read the book. Much as I admire him, I’m worried he’ll reinforce my habit of honing and revising as I write. I’ve been working to be more the kind of writer who forges full steam ahead, getting that first draft done no matter how leaky and messy. I’m too whatever to ever be a true by-the-seat-of-my-panster, but I’d like more of that in my drafting process, which tends, too often, to favor the words themselves over the story.
And yet, Verlyn and me, we both have faith in the words. I just never know what a fortuitous phrase might unlock, where a well-made sentence might lead. While I can’t always follow my imagination, which just this morning tried to weasel a totally new character, an unemployed dolphin trainer, into a story where she most definitely does not belong, I do trust my inner voice.
I’m pretty sure, though, that he’d find most of the sentences in this post way too long.
Writing advice for the week, from Elliott Holt in Poets and Writers:
“I love big cities for the energy, the people-watching, the access to art and culture, the ability to feel anonymous. But I also need a daily ‘forest bath,’ as the Japanese call it. I take a long walk in the woods almost every day to clear my head…There is something about being on the trails, in the silence, under all those trees that does wonders for my brain. (A couple of years ago, The New York Times noted the health benefits of ‘forest bathing’: apparently time spent among trees and plants reduces stress and boosts immune function.) I take my dog with me and sometimes I sort out character and plot problems on my walks. But more often than not, the walk is just a way to let go—of anxiety, of ego—and recharge my creative batteries. I always work better after I’ve been in the woods.”