You may know that I’ve lately been spending my days at Passages Bookshop. My repertoire there includes:
selling books, chatting with customers, reading, thinking while staring into space, picking out books to read later, considering visual art, writing postcards, and playing with the toys and ephemera that are hidden in an old wooden card catalog cabinet
The shop has quite a selection of letters and words: flashcards, die cuts, even pieces of a kind of lexical game! I couldn’t resist putting this together yesterday:
Playing with letters gave me some space to think about making writing that works, especially about how my poetry practice informs the work I do for clients. The afternoon spawned the following bits + pieces:
⊗ Every piece of writing is made up of movable parts. It is surprisingly easy to forget that we can delineate and rotate pieces of everything we write. In this case (and in the context of my poetry) the letters themselves are literally separate objects. Even if you’re working on a 50-page PDF, don’t forget that you can make your introduction into your ending, or that your favorite sentence might serve you better in a different spot.
⊗ In a finished piece, each element is necessary. The components fit together to give writing meaning and tone, both of which are key. This doesn’t mean that something can’t be long or extravagant, but that it should be a conscious decision. I am a stronger editor for having studied poetry, wherein things as small as line breaks are decided upon with grave intention. Poets get weird, but they do it on purpose. I very much admire Ronald Johnson, whose hand-print functioned as an entire section of his epic poem ARK. And it works beautifully! Maybe what your memoir or website copy needs is something totally unexpected.
⊗ Simple can be winning. Once you’ve pinned down the necessary parts of what you’re writing, it might seem as if there’s not much left. Don’t get scared! A primary use of writing is the communication of our thoughts or ideas. Too many words can actually inhibit our reader’s ability to get our message.
⊗ Repetition can be transformative. In a famous act of minimalism, poet Aram Saroyan turned a word into a poem by adding a simple repetition in the center. No matter your feelings about one-word poems, reiteration can be a great stylistic or rhetorical tool when it is used with care. If you have great copy, make the most out of it.