In Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, she recommends exercising our writer minds long before we actually put words to paper. Then when we do begin to write, the ideas and words flow. I like her advice and think of it in terms of being playful and having fun.
As I read, sometimes a sentence or phrase stops me in my tracks. When this happens, I like to examine the sentence, learn from it or just play around with it.
This happened to me recently when I read this line: “Men do not often boil a woman’s rabbit.” I was reading best-selling author Bob Mayer’s description of different archetypes of men and women. At first, this sentence stopped me because I didn’t understand it. I had to take a few minutes to wrap my brain around it. Finally, I got the meaning—we often see women “boiling a man’s rabbit,” but not vice versa. Read more
Over the years, I’d trained myself to be an observer of life’s details and to use those concrete details in my writing. (I do have an MFA in people watching). But I’d never done the opposite—never thought about turning details into abstractions as Ayn Rand suggests we do in her book The Art of Fiction.
I’m sure at some unconscious level, the details and abstractions ran parallel lives in my mind but I wasn’t consciously aware of them. I never thought, “What do the moles on my mother’s neck represent?”
While on vacation earlier this year, I sat on a white sand beach on the island of Kauai and thought about Rand’s advice. She suggests we practice seeing the abstractions within the concrete details in order to make our minds supple and easily able to notice both the abstractions or premises in our work and how to show them through details. Read more
I didn’t discover I was a writer until college when I fell in love with poetry. Fortunately for me, my first poetry professor was big on concrete. No, he didn’t have a weekend job laying sidewalks or foundations. But he did pound it into us that our effusive abstractions needed to be transformed into concrete images.
Some of my first poems were pure mush and raw emotion. When I blathered on about feeling lonely in a foreign country, he asked, “What color is lonely? What does lonely smell like? Was there a specific place or location or city where you felt the most lonely?” He explained that through the right details I could evoke those feelings in my reader.
I can still remember the rush of satisfaction when I finally captured the essence of that poem into specifics. Read more