“The brain is more powerful than we think it is. We pay more attention than we think we do. When we’re not so obstructed with the tools of recording, we’ll actually pay attention more.”
Verlyn is a highly regarded essayist frequently compared to E.B. White, a teacher, and author of a guide called Several Short Sentences about Writing. In a great session on rhythm and writing, David Popiel, a member of my critique group, introduced us to some of Verlyn’s ideas.
One concept that Verlyn embraces wholeheartedly is that of creative attention — noticing the world around us and what seems important to us without feeling compelled to record it right away. He calls this an exercise in not writing, in “catching your sleeve on the thorn of the thing you notice, and paying attention as you free yourself.” This reminds me of E.B. White (see World-class Noticer).
In Verlyn’s view, based on years of observing his own writing habits and those of students, all too often, we rush to commit words to paper prematurely, when our ideas are only half-formed. We don’t give them time to ripen in our heads and rob them of their full potential. As an alternative, he suggests “Imagining sentences instead of writing them.”
I often do this myself. Sometimes, when I’m very relaxed — lying in bed, for instance — a sentence will float into my head and I’ll start playing with it, moving phrases around, substituting better words, listening to the rhythm of the new versions I come up with. Only after I feel totally satisfied, will I commit it to paper. Have you ever tried this? It’s a kind of mental gymnastics and it’s lots of fun.
One of the goals of Several Short Sentences is to shake up some of the conventional wisdom about writing. As Verlyn observes, “I hear a lot of emphasis on correctness from my students. What is the correct way to write? And the fact is, writing is such a mystery. There is no way to write. There’s only the way you find to write.” Well said, Verlyn, and something worth remembering as we rev up our creative attention to and write on!