Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arts and Crafts

How many writers have strange word associations?  (Maybe I'm kidding myself that it's a writer thing and I'm just weird.)  Names remind me of food.  Rebecca = tomato soup with rice (explain that one).  Margaret = butterscotch.  Okay, this is sounding weirder the more I type.  Gary = ground beef (courtesy of Gary Burghoff on M*A*S*H, who was the only Gary I'd ever heard of at age 3).  And so the word craft = Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Nothing fancy.  A comfort food.  Dependable, easy, satisfying.

Perhaps it's because I read John Gardner as a beginning writer and he scared me into thinking I was certainly in the wrong field, but I realized early on that I do not write literary fiction and, perhaps sadly, don't aspire to.  While the "art of fiction" is certainly a very worthy pursuit, I am more inclined to view myself as a journeyman than an artiste

While other artistic endeavours (music, visual arts) involve skills honed through years of specialized study... we all write.  I am not a "morning pages" sort (though I admire those who are).  I hope I am not deluding myself when I say that I believe that every time we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), we are honing our craft, exercising our writing muscles, in effect doing our scales.

The first craft books I read in my first serious writing class (6th grade) were the old standby, Strunk & White's Elements of Style; and Writing Well, by Donald Hall.

I also adore George Orwell's essay, Politics and the English Language.  (Today's political discourse would certainly resemble a more honest dialogue  were its principles observed by more of us -- but I digress.)

Through the years, I have added the following to my "required reading" list:

Line By Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, by Claire Kehrwald Cook.  This one was recommended by Jane Resh Thomas (writing teacher extraordinaire) at Vermont College and should, in my opinion, be read in very small doses -- tough to slog through and absorb, but well worth reading.

And, by my late, great mentor (though not a craft book per se): It's a Bunny-Eat-Bunny World, by Olga Litowinsky.

I also heartily second the Anne LaMott and Jon Franklin suggestions. 

As in the art of writing, the most extraordinary teachers among us have an inborn gift.  But even these blessed few must spend years working and studying to perfect their craft. 

When I began to teach English 101, my boss recommended I read The St. Martin's Guide to Teaching Writing, which she said taught her everything she knows.  I am still a neophyte teacher, but I can certainly attest to its helpfulness! 

For primary teachers, I am a big fan of Educating Esme and the website, tremendously useful for instilling a love of literature in young readers.  (I love reading it as a writer, too.)  I'd bet that most of us who are children's book writers had at least one teacher like Esme when we were young to whom we owe many thanks for our enduring love of words and story.


Tara McClendon said...

I wouldn't say that names remind me of food, but I do have certain emotional reactions to spefic names.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for mentioning the St. Martin's book, Jeanne Marie. I'm going to see if I can get a copy.