We are pleased to welcome Lou Freshwater to our Tuesday Serial site with a series of two posts. Lou is a writer, poet and freelance editor we have had the pleasure to come to know through the #FridayFlash community. We hope that you enjoy her posts and find some way to incorporate these insights into your writing. Welcome, Lou!
Last week we talked about two of my favorite books on writing fiction. Now I am going to share a book I fell in love with during the time when I was writing poetry and had not yet imagined being able to write a short-story, or even a piece of flash fiction.
Let’s start with The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser. Now, I can hear all of the fiction writers in the house tuning me out and preparing to surf the internet. Poets? What do they know? Well I’m hear to tell you they know a lot and any fiction writer who does not think exposing themselves to the craft of poetry will help their fiction is flat-out wrong. I will always be grateful my writing journey began in poetry and progressed into fiction. Having the skills of a poet, even if you don’t ever write a poem, is like having a deadly sharp knife in your writing toolbox. Kooser’s book in particular, is a book which writers of any form can benefit from. For example, the chapter on details is wonderful and there is no writer of fiction who shouldn’t be paying attention to detail. Kooser writes:
“Just keep in mind that it won’t be the birthday cake covered with twinkling candles that will make readers feel that you were really at the party, but the bone-handled serving fork with one tine missing and the place where the lace has pulled loose from the hem of the tablecloth.”
It also helps that I love Ted Kooser’s work. He reminds me of Billy Collins as he tends to sneak up on you in his poetry. In this book, he never talks down or condescends, and he chooses wonderful examples of mostly prosy and accessible poetry in order to help illustrate his points. So there you go fiction writers, take out a knife and get to sharpening.
I also wanted to make brief mention of a few more books which I have found to be helpful in my constant quest to better understand and improve my craft. Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook is a more work-a-day poetry book, but like Kooser’s there is much to be gained no matter what your form. Ray Bradbury’s little treasure Zen in the Art of Writing is brilliant and fun and something I return to again and again in order to remind myself why I love writing and all of the magic and joy it can bring. Finally I find great sources of timeless wisdom in reading artist’s letters. Although not specifically about writing, Van Gogh’s letters to his brother will put you in touch with the heart of an artist and all of its passion and thunder and terror, and likewise Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is a wonderful thing to turn to in this age of the internet where introspection and solitude often elude the modern writer. I’ll leave you with a quote from a letter I found in Sherwood Anderson’s book, another intimate look at a writer and his thoughts on craft, A Story Teller’s Story:
From Petrarch’s Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio
Continued work and application form my soul’s nourishment. So soon as I commenced to rest and relax I should cease to live. I know my own powers. I am not fitted for other kinds of work, but my reading and writing, which you would have me discontinue, are easy tasks, nay, they are a delightful rest, and relieve the burden of heavier anxieties. There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us or wound us while they charm, but the pen we take up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away — sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come. I believe I speak but the strict truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety.
Continue the work, enjoy your journey.
So I’ll turn it over to you:
- Did you start out writing poetry and move into fiction, or vice versa?
- If you write both, do you find the process vastly different or similar in nature?
- Can you see how the line is often blurred between a prose poem and flash fiction?
- Do you agree that learning poetry craft such as using concrete language can help your prose?
About Lou: Lou Freshwater loves literature (American in particular) and Existential philosophy, but not as much as she loves spicy food and the Delta Blues. She considers herself to be a life-long student of these and other things. She wrote a screenplay long ago, and she writes poetry and fiction at her blog and at Fictionaut. Her creative work has been published in numerous journals, and she has also published an essay on the Existentialism of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams in the Arthur Miller Journal. Her freelance writing and editing site is Not On A Map.