Thursday, July 26, 2012

Departures: Last Day of English 354, July 26, 2012

Deborah Bernard

English 354: Final Craft Essay


You Can’t Beat a Deadhorse

The process of taking the work of this intense, six-week creative writing/non-fiction course and weaving it into one final portfolio was truly a learning experience.

“Show, don’t tell,” was New Rule Number One that I learned from my instructor Kelly Magee, and my 15 fellow writers who generously critiqued my work. The students had heard there was sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in the early oilfield. They wanted to know more, but through scene, not summary. New Rule Number Two.

Framing was critical, New Rule Number Three, so I revised and rewrote to try to present my scenes from my point of view.

I learned about tension, pacing, and manipulating energy (NR#4) while avoiding wordiness and writerly language. Most of my rewrites resulted in less words with more bang for their buck; I searched and destroyed, seeking out excessive adjectives and dispatching them, in cold blood.

I had a serious challenge in the last section of my portfolio: I needed to sum up 30 years of arctic retailing without using straight narrative, my new worst enemy. I wanted to avoid the clichés, the wrap-it-up-in-a-bow pat ending that we love in our sitcoms, hate in our writers. I consciously added some scenes but am not sure if the final quote, “It’s just Deadhorse” is conclusive enough.

Reference: at the end of Jack Nicholson’s movie Chinatown, the woman he loves, Faye Dunaway, is gunned down in the streets as she flees in her car.


Final line: “Forget about it, Jake. It’s just…Chinatown.”

That’s what I was going for in mine but I’m not sure I provided enough drama.

I strove to be generous to my (loyal) subjects, not smugly judgmental (NR #5.)

I tried to work small and not just give some haughty overview.

I loved learning the word didactic and vowed not to be that way in my writing.

My goal is this final piece: “Get out of their heads and into their bodies.”

I take away this great quote: “Sanity is madness put to good use.” Who said that? Was it Adam or Nietzsche? I always get those two mixed up.

Did I succeed in my communication goals in this final piece, of sharing that crazy, mushroom-trip-of-a-world with my readers? Only you and my other readers can tell me that.

But I am grateful for this: the skills and techniques that I learned in this class will forever influence all my future writing. These New Lessons will also influence how I live:

With gusto, energy, variety. With generosity. Varying my pace to keep everyone interested, and engaged. Most of all me.

Thank you, Kelly!

And thank you, fellow writers.

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