I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
~ Preface ~
I think I’ve told you before about the uncannily regular pattern I experience of holding a strong opinion about something only to later have to reverse it, or at least dramatically revise it, when life has opened my mind to the virtues of the opposite point of view. It’s gotten to the point that whenever I have a strong feeling about something, I take it as a cue that it’s something I probably need to rethink—though sometimes it’s more than just “rethinking” that’s required; life has to strip off my blinders and peel back new layers of emotional understanding first. Maybe as I get older I’ll grow in the ability to fully, honestly consider opposing arguments on topics that have emotional weight for me, and I could skip the embarrassment of having to completely change my tune about something. But I don’t mind that too much. For now, I’ll just keep eating my words when the time comes.
And this is one of those times.
You know how I was on a crusade about understandable poetry? (See “In Defense of Understandable Poetry.“) And I’m sure you’ve noticed that my own poetry tends to be extremely obvious and straightforward, pretty much just regular nonfiction prose chopped up into rhyming lines. I knew that that doesn’t make for great, enjoyable poetry, but I couldn’t conceive of going about it any other way—I wasn’t going to try to be obscure. And that’s what I felt was true about a lot of the modern poetry in literary journals—that the authors were trying to be obscure for the sake of highbrow pretentiousness. And that is what I was on a crusade against.
It’s not that I now disagree and think poetry should be “journal-code-speak” mumbo-jumbo—not at all. I still think that if the reader has absolutely no possibility of understanding it, it’s not good poetry. But now I’ve come to understand this whole issue quite differently.
Seeking to identify and communicate crystal-clear truth is a great thing for all non-creative forms of communication, including most nonfiction and, for me, journaling. However, I see now that creative writing, like other types of art, puts images on that truth—gives concrete weight to it—dresses it up to make it pleasing and palatable, enticing and engaging—helps us see truth that we might have breezed by in its plain form, just like a wind chime allows us to hear wind that we may not otherwise have noticed—and allows for infinite mining and personalization of truth in a way that utterly clear and simple explanation cannot.
That is the puzzle piece I’ve been missing. I see now that the alternative to writing the starkly obvious is not to try to be obscure, but rather to try to make my words shine into the minds of my readers through imagery, story, and feeling. Creative writing is not about showing or hiding the black-and-white truth, but about coloring it. And my focus should not be on merely expressing my thoughts in a way that arbitrarily seems to sound good; I should also be thinking about the reader, for whom I’m carefully wrapping a gift.
And this mindset is for more than just poetry; it applies to any type of art. I’ve been focusing more on fiction lately, so I’m applying these thoughts to trying to craft a vivid experience for the reader.
If my writing journey is like a video game, I think this discovery has opened up for me a whole new level to master!