Friday, May 25, 2012

The Perfect Mile

I'm a running geek and a writer and I loved THE PERFECT MILE. I listened to it on CD.

It's the story of three athletes, Roger Bannister from England, John Landy from Australia, and Wes Santee from Kansas, USA, each of whom wanted to be the first to break the four-minute mile barrier, a feat many thought beyond the capability of any man. Author Neal Bascomb weaved the three men's backgrounds and race histories into a tale with enough tension to keep me listening despite the fact that I knew many of the outcomes beforehand. Without creating cliffhangers that might annoy readers, he left one story and moved onto another at such a place where it left the reader wondering what happened next. He also answered all the reader's questions generated by the story at the place where the question was raised. This helped create smooth transitions among the stories of the three men.

In addition to the skillful storytelling, I was also impressed with the tremendous amount of research that went into this book. Newspaper headlines from each race (and there were many) as well as quotations from individuals pepper the book with authenticity. This is creative nonfiction at its best.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Screaming on the Page

"[T]he one thing I want for you is to recognize when you are really singing in writing practice and honor that. Trust that. When you were screaming on the page. Maybe that doesn't make a whole book but that is the true seed." - Natalie Goldberg

Sometimes I see what Natalie's talking about in a student in my class. A writer entranced in her work leans forward, pen scribbling, face intent. Strong nouns and active verbs spew from her pen. And when she reads, it's the same thing. The look on her face shows she is surprised at how good it is, how apt the phrasing, how appropriate the descriptions are to the situation. She looks up, amazed at what came from her heart and onto the page.

She's not thinking when she writes from that place. It's beyond thought. It's just fingers and images. There's nothing in between, no separation between what she sees in her mind and how the words flow onto the page.

Sometimes it feels clunky as she writes it. Sometimes it is fluid. She never knows which it will be until she reads. The brain is a great trickster. It wants her to be confused. The brain knows, but is afraid for her. It wants her to stay far from the fire inside. It wants to protect her, but in doing so, it shields her from her own great power.

The brain will try to nullify the words before they can be spoken. It will reprimand even as the hand keeps moving across the page and the words wind out in long sinewy rows looping and lilting without regard to the lines. The heart remembers how. It knows what it's like to be free on the page. It knows how to open a throat and let it howl until the sound reaches the paper.

And so the key, still, decades after Natalie first said it, is the same. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hand moving.

Do you remember what it feels like to scream on the page? Have you ever sung in writing practice? I'd love to hear about it.