Friday, May 28, 2010

On Writing

Growing up, I didn't write anything outside of school. But my first writing success was having a blunt story of mine ("The Underground Kingdom," a scan of which will be produced as soon as I find the story from my closet) featured at a young writer's festival when I was in 5th grade. It was the tale of a kidnapped princess, a king who has lost his wits, and an underdog hero. At the end of the story, I even wrote "MORAL: Never underestimate the small guy" or some equally Mother Goose-type thing.

In middle school, I was blessed with my first great English teacher, Mrs. Julia Bradford (Roach) Roach (she had married a man with the same last name as hers, but, which she stressed, a man to whom she — and she had taken care to research this — was not related). We wrote a short story every week in order to incorporate new vocabulary words into our writing. I forget most of what I wrote. One was about a space alien / starship. I remember that an acquaintance of mine at the time, Artus Nemati, wrote a powerful series of short stories about dirt. (Or was it dust?)

Mrs. Roach had drilled us on participles, gerunds, and other high-level grammar that is all but left out of the classroom nowadays. I beefed up on this stuff when I began to study Latin in high school. But I honed my analytical writing in the classroom of Mr. William "Carter" Hammond, my high school's resident AP English (Lang/Lit) teacher, where, for every Friday during the my junior and senior years, for precisely 55 minutes, my pen furiously hit paper in an attempt to express my views on the imagery in "Blackberry Picking or the symbolism in "The Destructors" in a concise-but-non-formulaic in-class essay.

Later, I came to blame this exercise for my hyperdeveloped ability to write quickly and expertly underfire — in college, papers would 90% of the time be left off until the night before (even 18-pagers, if you can believe it) — but I soon came to the conclusion that I was simply putting off work as a defensive mechanism so that later, no matter what the grade, I could say to myself, "Well, I didn't have a lot of time to polish that one."

In college, I began blogging and I also began writing music journalism, first for FSU's student paper, and later, after graduation, for It's a neat process to sit down with new music and try to say something about it that isn't vague, hackneyed, or reductive. It's also very challenging.

In grad school I discovered my love of the personal essay. It's an amorphous, fractured beast that allows for all kinds of tangential asides and non sequiturs (when done right, of course) and doesn't necessarily articulate a well-formulated worldview or moral or lesson in the way an argumentative essay, op-ed piece, or research article does. I'd tried my clumsy hand at short fiction before (and had attempted NaNoWriMo on two separate occasions), but I found it much easier for me to write out personal essays than to write fiction.

See, instead of writing thinly veiled autobiography-as-fiction, I could start from the essential truthiness granted to the personal essay form and start to smudge the truth from that side. That is to say: because of a need to craft the presentation of information into an entertaining prose and/or linear narrative (via omission, conflation, and minor fibbing), all essayists are essentially liars, but certainly not as big of liars as fiction writers are.

See more on the "Writing" page of my website...


  1. Maybe the writing of the essayist creates the marketable image of reality from incomplete memories. Turning the memory of one essay into, "a powerful series of short stories about dirt. (Or was it dust?)" The hyperbole brings a rather uninteresting topic to a level of Thompson-ian absurdity to emphasize a point.

    It was dust.

  2. Brilliant! I'd lost your contact info, Artus, so this was partly my way of contacting you again. How are things? Feel free to email justindlc at yahoo dot com. Good to hear from you.