So we’re sitting in Melbourne in a vegan restaurant reminiscing about our school days spent mucking-up in the back row and Jane (her hair still red, short and frizzy, like childhood) remembers daring me to ask our fourth-grade Geography teacher how to spell ‘undulations’. What? “Because I wanted to write her a message,” Jane says. “An unsigned message saying, ‘The way you run your hands over your boobs to demonstrate undulations is disgusting,’ but didn’t know how to spell it. So I told you that if you were my friend, you’d ask her. You know how she always said to speak up if we couldn’t spell something? For some reason she wrote the word down on a piece of paper, rather than on the blackboard. Maybe she thought you couldn’t see properly from our eyrie. So you got back to your desk and passed it to me under the chair. I wrote in my best handwriting, ‘Your demonstrations of undulations are gross,’ blotted it carefully, and placed it furtively on her table after the recess bell had cleared the room. When we filed in after lunch, I saw her open it up.” Jane taps me on the arm enthusiastically. “What happened then?” I say. “Was she angry? Did she think it was me? Did I get punished?” How forgetful was I? Jane had mastered the art of getting the ink from the inkwell to the pen nib to the paper—no ugly blotches—her cursive as good as a professional engraver’s. Even after all this time, she still prefers a fountain pen and has a proclivity for setting wrongs right. “She threw the chalk in the bin, reached for her cardigan and draped it over her shoulders,” Jane says, grinning. “Yes, that’s what happened. And she didn’t demonstrate undulating landscapes on herself or on any of us ever again.”
This declarative sentence was spoken by Don Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) in the movie The Godfather (1972).
It is not uncommon for women and other minority groups to add qualifiers to their statements. Such as ‘Parents need to stop organising every minute of their children’s spare time, don’t you think?’ ‘I loved that movie, didn’t you?’ In our sentence structure we look for reinforcement for our thoughts and opinions. We don’t always make declarative statements. ‘This is wonderful.’ ‘This is a catastrophe.’ We look for re-enforcement from others.
Another thing we do without realising it, is use indefinite modifiers in our speech: perhaps, maybe, somehow. ‘Maybe I’ll take a trip somewhere.’ As if the speaker has no power to make a decision. ‘Perhaps it will change.’ Again, not a clear declarative sentence like, ‘Yes, nothing stays the same.’
It is important for us as writers to express ourselves in clear assertive sentences. ‘This is excellent.’ ‘It was a red dress.’ Not ‘The thing is, I know it sounds a bit vague, but I think maybe it was a red dress.’ Speaking in declarative sentences is a good rehearsal for trusting your own ideas, in standing up for yourself, for speaking out your truth.
When I write poetry I read through early drafts with a critical eye, taking out indefinite words and modifiers. I attempt to distill each moment to its essence by peeling off the layers until the heart of the poem is exposed. We need to take risks as writers and go deep within ourselves to find our unique voices and express ourselves with clarity.
Even if you are not 100% sure about your own opinions and thoughts write as if you are sure. Dig deep. Be clear. Don’t be vague on the page. If you keep practicing this, you will eventually reveal your own deep knowing.
What about you? Have you noticed this tendency to qualify in your conversations with others, or in your creative writing, or in blog posts?
When Sammy was three-and-a-half, the counsellor had made a “diagnosis”: emotional immaturity. My daughter’s eyes filled with tears when she told me the pre-school advised some outside help was the answer. Sammy needs to learn to manage her emotions, the counsellor said. The school will monitor her behavior. Continue reading →
I am sitting in a café across the road from the beach in Bronte, Sydney. This stretch of road has a whole row of cafes side by side facing the sea. This is my favourite kind of writing place: one where I can sit comfortably for a long period of time and where the owners of the café know me and welcome me. This café is owned by a Brazilian man and his wife and has comfortable upholstered bench chairs with a direct view of the Pacific Ocean. For my two-hour writing session my choice could be a traditional Brazilian dish such as Coxinha, Feijoda or Moqueca. Or a cocktail like Caipirinha or Caipiroska. I must order something and it must be more that a Soy Cap, because I plan to be here for a long time. I want the owners of the café to know I appreciate the time and the space they are allowing me.
However, today I’ll be very boring and order poached eggs on gluten-free bread 🙂
Why go to all this trouble to find a place to write? Why not just stay home and work? Because it’s good to get out and have a change of scene. I find I need to be happy and relaxed when I’m creating on the page and sitting in a café with a pleasant vibe works for me. Other writers need silence in order to concentrate, but I need to feel I am out and about in a beautiful place having a good time before the creative juices flow.
Strangely, working in a café can help to increase concentration. The busy café atmosphere keeps the sensory part of you occupied and content, so that the hidden, quieter part of you that composes and focuses is allowed to do its work. It is something like being cunning when trying to get a spoonful of food into a resistant toddler’s mouth . You pretend to be an aeroplane with all the sound effects and movements before landing the food-laden plane inside the child’s mouth. Mission accomplished.
What about you? Do you need to be at your desk in total silence to write, or do you like to experience the swell of humanity around you—to be surrounded by other human beings? Or at home listening to a particular kind of music?
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