“What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about writing?”
“Capaciousness. Sorry to use such an awkward word. I’ve learned not to steer by the lights merely of my own tastes, preferences, desires, and predilections. Things I have the strongest resistance to teach me the most, in writing as in life…. We all know that Whitman said that he contains multitudes, and we pay lip service to that, but if you think hard about what it really entails, you’ll work harder to become
expansive and adventurous.”
Don Share, interview in The Writer, April 2016
Don Share is the editor of Poetry, former poetry editor of Harvard Review, and the author of several poetry collections. His comment on “capaciousness” struck a chord with me. This is a two-bit word, but it packs a lot of punch: It’s defined as, “having a lot of space inside; roomy” and “capable of containing a great deal.”
Spaciousness — this is another word for what Share is talking about here. To me, what comes to mind is giving ourselves “breathing room” — getting beyond our comfort zones and the narrow grooves that we tend to stuck in when it comes to our writing. Our stuckness can come from fixating on the same theme or writing in the same style or reading the same type of books.
How can we become more “expansive and adventurous” in our writing? A few ideas:
Reading poetry and plays: While most of us may be writing prose, whether fiction or nonfiction, our writing can be enriched in exciting ways by reading other types of literature. We can learn so much, for instance, by looking at the way a poem creates a small world by using vivid images, surprising words, and rhythm. Reading plays can help us sharpen our dialogue and skill in delivering information for maximum impact.
Exploring new genres: Branching out and reading books in different genres can be eye-opening. I’m not a huge thriller or mystery fan, for example, but reading P.D. James has been very instructive. There’s something about how she sets up her stories and her character portrayals that is very adept and riveting. And I recently reread Pride and Prejudice and restructured my own novel based on its story arc.
Any other ideas for expanding our writing horizons? I’d love to hear them. Write on!