Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Simple to complex to simple to complex to simple: that's how we grow in everything

ring by ring, we build brevity, depth, complexity, simplicity
Every new skill or bit of knowledge we learn brings with it that usage curve that starts out complex, and as we gain understanding and mastery, we simplify and integrate.  That applies to life and work in general, but it is also the essence of growing as a writer.

My students practice descriptive imagery, and it is such agony for them.  They struggle with words like thing and stuff and painstakingly turn them into "blue-green fabric around stuffed spun polyester, stitched tight, bursting with fishy lushness among the two year old's many teddy bears" and beam with pride at their accomplishment.  It is indeed worth their excitement and pleasure for creating an image.

They repeat the exercise, draw the lesson into their writing, fill the pithy lines with gaudy images, each clamoring for attention, none greater or lesser than the other.

They learn discernment. They learn to select which images need to stand ahead of others.  They learn the pithy line has a place.  "The child's toys, a jumbled plethora of giraffes and Teddy bears, were topped with one lone length of glimmering scaled fishiness.  It flopped to one side, scalloped fins lolling over, soft tail aswamp in the white fuzz of a round-faced kitten."

The struggle begins again to create the perfect effect. The image that sets up place without overpowering.  The symbol that will appear at necessary intervals to carry a theme, support a motif.  It is a battle of controlled inspiration that requires complex planning, the ability to draw back from the precipice of too much and pull in from the wide open range of subtlety.  It is nail-biting, tongue out the side of the mouth, pencil tapping concentration.  It is love and hate of the written word, the designed phrase, the scintillating sentence.

They take another run at it.   This time much has become just part of their writing.  Meaning and clarity hold precedence, the image part of the foundation, not the crowning glory of the effort.

Simplicity gains complexity, complexity turns to simplicity, simplicity participates in the complexity, complexity feels like simplicity.

And this process does not change. We never reach the last summit, but keep climbing to the next.

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