You are a remarkable stylist. Every sentence has a brilliant clarity that also has a conversational element. How do you achieve this? How did you learn to write like that?
—Susan Thurin, Menomonie, WI
Thanks for the props, Susan. Of course I had to respond to this question! It has actually had me thinking a lot. How is it we learn to write in a certain way? It isn’t like learning something specific such as how to catch and throw a ball, though repetition and trial and error are needed for both. I suspect the real answer starts with the fact that style comes a lot from the personality of a writer and how aware the writer is of an audience. In writing classes, I’ve always told students that you have to have a particular sense of both people and language to be a writer since people are your subject matter and language your tool. In my case, I think much of my sense of both may have come from a story telling style I picked up from my half-Irish dad. Though he could be quite serious about things that were serious, he always found humor in a situation. The way that translates for me is that I may take life seriously but not myself as much. Perhaps that means there is something grounding in my style, a way of returning to a middle plane even in moments of intensity. But I’m not really sure.
This question also reminds me of something I heard the poet Jorie Graham say in a master class. I’m just making a rough paraphrase, but she spoke about the levels of diction we use in writing, depending on the audience. The highest diction level is the language of, say, Caesar speaking to the crowd. The levels descend—I think she may have actually sketched out twelve levels—until you arrive at the least articulate: the writer trying to convey the broken phrases and unrelated bits of language that float in the consciousness. That level is really the writer just barely speaking to the self. My feeling is that a lot of writing is really combining and calibrating these various levels of diction in such a way that we convey the essence and complexity of what we’re saying in the most direct and accessible way we can. It’s working and working until we get the tone right since, in writing, we are always in conversation with someone.
Susan’s website as an independent bookseller is bookendsonmain.