The Form Our Writing Takes

This past Tuesday the Salt Water Writers gathered again and basically blew my mind.  I absolutely cannot explain the amazing magic that happens when we all write together.  I love that as we spontaneously create our individual narratives based on prompts I have given, we each find our voice taking shape in a different form.  Some writers feel compelled to write in poetry, others prose, and still others sound more like a screenplay.  And here’s what Pat Schneider has to say about using different forms:

In my opinion, the pressure on writers toward specialization is unfortunate.  I have resisted, and I still resist, writing groups limited to one genre.  When writing begins, it needs freedom to take its own form.  [Inspiration] will express itself sometimes as story, sometimes as poem, sometimes as grand opera, sometimes as country-and-western ballad.  People frequently join my workshops saying, I write only poems, or I write only fiction and are surprised when something completely different comes bubbling up in response to a good exercise.

I love the rich and fertile give-and-take when writers are working in varying forms.  A fiction writer learns how to write dialogue by listening to two workshop members read aloud the scene that a third workshop member has brought to the meeting.  A poet is encouraged to use specific, concrete imagery by listening to a vivid prose description of a man opening a can of beer and taking his first sip, the foam catching the bristle on his unshaven lip.

Writers need the refreshment of various forms.  Daphne Slocombe observed:

“The demands of using a particular form can help to focus the author’s attention and intensify his or her engagement.  For new writers, I think it is important to know that there is a reason for forms.  You can fool with them, mess around with them, can get to know them by trying them out and seeing how they affect the material you’re working with.  No need to be intimidated by them; they were invented or discovered by other writers like us, trying to find the best, most effective container for what they had to say, for what they wanted to show us.”

In the workshops I lead, we write two, sometimes three times in one evening session.  Once in awhile someone writes three wonderful separate poems in one evening.  Some writers can write three sections of a novel-in-progress.  But most mortals, like myself, may write one prose piece, one journal entry, and – if we’re especially ‘hot’ – one poem.

Writing Alone and With Others (p.116)

We also talked about the fact that it’s easier to try new forms (or those that are not intuitive to us) while writing in the group versus on our own at home.

So I was pleased as punch when I was directed to a book called Unscrolled: 54 Writers and Artists Wrestle With the Torah.  And in particular, I loved the snippet from Damon Lindelof (writer of LOST) and his take on the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham.  It reads like a screenplay with a cop interrogating Abraham.  Awesome.  You can read it here.  My curiosity is piqued — I wonder what other forms these artists have used to rub up against such a significant body of work.


Leave a Reply