Braiding with Clumsy Fingers

As an English instructor, I often get textbooks to review for consideration in my classes. Most recently I was flipping through a books entitled The Practice of Creative Writing by Heather Sellers. Although I shy away from a traditional textbook in my Intro to Creative Writing class (I prefer a copy of Elements of Style and excerpts from a number of other sources like King, Bradbury, Gardner, and Lamott), I was interested in seeing what the book had to offer. Most of it was useful knowledge; just not useful enough for me to warrant leveling the price tag on my students, when I can pull the exercises from the text. Also, I find that the mere nature of the textbook changes the way students approach the class.

That being said, I found two things particularly fascinating. First is the title: The Practice of Creative Writing. Practice is a perfect word for describing what writers do. Never is the craft so perfected that there is no room for improvement. Each story, each poem, each exercise is a practice session. Even it is never read by anyone else, the practice pushes the writer further, helps them learn something if willing

Second, Sellers talks about the idea of a braided story, which she defines as a: “piece that uses different strands–usually three separate story lines or topics, alternating topics sequentially between each of the three lines . . . [they] add depth, energy, layers, tension, and insight.” While I am certainly familiar with multi plot narrative, even in short pieces, I have never heard it referred to as braiding. The image struck me as particularly effective–the writer must weave together the narrative strands, keeping them even and separate yet intertwining them in an effective way.

My practice, then, is an experiment in braiding. I have a short story that I have finished but have not been sending out because it isn’t ready. Unable to pinpoint the issue, I have been sitting on it, returning to revise to little result. Inspired by Seller’s passage, I am taking the basic narrative and braiding it with new material. Perhaps, even if the end result isn’t the cure either, it will at least diagnose the problem.

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