Your Entrance Into Better Writing

As a writing instructor, I obviously have some faith that writing can be taught. I believe there are practical strategies that lead to better writing. As usual, my explanation has an architecture metaphor.

That’s right. The architecture-obsessed writer strikes again. This time I’m not alone. The great poet and author of craft books, Kim Addonizio, also sees a comparison between our beloved writing and the fascinating field of architecture.

In the fifth chapter of her book, Ordinary Genius, Addonizio tells us to, “Imagine a sentence as a hall with a series of doors. Each door is a possible way to use what you’ve already written to generate new material.”

In the chapter, Addonizio describes six different doors, methods of expanding a sentence to generate more material for a poem.

Maybe because I’ve recently written a couple of poems about hallways and doors, this chapter really excites me. Of the oodles of exercises included in the book, this was one of the first ones I tried.

I began with a sentence that I actually adapted from another sentence in Ordinary Genius. With that line, I stood at one end of my poetic hallway and proceeded blindly to the other end, opening every door I could, for a while getting kind of lost, not knowing if I’d ever get to the other end of this hallway turned maze.

That feeling of being lost, of not knowing where each door would lead, actually made the process exhilarating. The constraint of always working within the same sentence was like a tether keeping me connected to the spine of the poem, the main axis. That freed me to go to the remotest of language, ideas, images, and abstractions. I could stay as long as I wanted, rearrange things, blow out walls, gaze out the window with no worry about time.

So, I encourage you to take a sentence that you love and open it up, rearrange it, expand it, repeat words or clauses or phrases, exchange words, mutate it, put in line breaks, and whatever else you can think of. You may not see better writing in an instant, but it will get better.

I also urge you to get your hands on a copy of the book. It could change your writing life.