on writing.

I should be writing an essay right now. Oh well. | via 
BRIAN DOYLE is in his own words a hirsute shambling shuffling mumbling grumbling muttering muddled maundering meandering male being who edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon – the best university magazine in America, according to Newsweek, and “the best spiritual magazine in the country,” according to author Annie Dillard, clearly a woman of surpassing taste and discernment. His greatest accomplishments are that a riveting woman said yup when he mumbled a marriage proposal, that the Coherent Mercy then sent them three lanky snotty sneery testy sweet brilliant nutty muttering children in skin boats from the sea of the stars, and that he once made the all-star team in a Boston men’s basketball league that was a really tough league, guys drove the lane in that league they lost fingers, man, one time a guy drove to the basket and got hit so hard his right arm fell off but he was lefty and hit both free throws, so there you go. 

He is also my very favorite. For writing essay after essay that sing to the deepest parts of me. So last week when he came to campus and then to the cathedral, I followed him like the fangirl I am and took maniacal notes at all four possible readings of his smashing soaring wondrous words. Here are just a few pages of those notes, just because.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thank you for your witness, gift of witness.

Great joy of writing is surprising yourself.

Type fast. It's the eleventh commandment.

The greatest thing I've learned to do as a writer is what not to write, what to leave out.

Take disparate things and stitch them together. Easiest way to connect is by telling a story and leave it shivering.

Explaining too much is a sin. Beware of commenting, sermonizing, expounding.

Look for repetition. Cutting is your best friend. Slay your darlings.

Look for boring verbs. One or two verb-changes can totally jazz up a piece.

Be totally naked between reader and writer, slip into each other.

Clarity. Ease of delivery. Read aloud to catch the muck and the guttering.

Stories have big shoulders. One story contains a million stories. Let the story be itself. Trust it. Essay is a voice unspooling a story.

Listen listen listen listen. Take maniacal notes.

Don't think. Turn your brain off. Just sit down and begin.
When you laugh you are much more yourself. Sometimes a funny story allows you to slip in the dagger.

People will tell you stories if you allow them to, and they will be extraordinary.

A great personal essay is in the end about everyone.

On dark days I think I am a thief. I am a story thief. I mill them for my own purposes and make money for it.

The more attention I pay to everyone else, the better writer I become.

Essays are arrows you send out in the world and sometimes they hit a heart.

There is a shard of holiness in everyone, like a great roaring splinter.

Slam language into ninth gear. Listen to the music of your sentences. Find rhythm in structure.

Write in one great crazy burst of insane creativity, and then go back over it as an engineer.

Libraries are holy, extraordinary things, they are not nouns but verbs, a beating heart at the center of community.

Witness is the story, to see day after day a person's grace under duress.

(on Gilead) It's a book that when the book ends the story is still shimmering somehow. It's about attentiveness, reverence, love in its biggest sense. A holy act.

No one talks about the people that nothing happens to but then something happens to them and there's no one to talk about it.

Insist on wonder and witness despite every evidence against it. 

Whether they're fiction or not, I like stories that are true, you know? That have bones.

The greatest tool for a writer is not your fingers but your ears. Your ears go straight to your heart.

(on his wife) She's such an extraordinary supernova of a human being.

When you're young the story is who am I? Who will I love? Or more importantly, more incessantly, who will love me? But as you grow older the story becomes witness, watching. Seeing each other for who you really are, can be, and will be.


A. said...

yes. brilliant. so needed this. we must talk about this at lunch tomorrow. must.

meg fee said...

i have to tell you: girl to girl, woman to woman, i'm in love with you (in a totally platonic way, but love nonetheless).

once i gave your blog the proper time it deserved i found myself coming here, to this your space for my moments of solitude and recovery.

you write superbly, so superbly i feel like you've done it all and i should just give up.

you have impeccable taste.

and your whole blog is something i wish i had produced.

Felicia said...

wow what brilliant notes. thank you for introducing me to his writing and yours.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant!!!!! Very inspiring! Thank you

Anonymous said...

Hey! This is Tori from Cicada Magazine (a lit mag for young adults)--just wanted to tell you that we loved this piece and reposted it on our new FB page (http://www.facebook.com/CicadaMagazine). Looove it.

Emily said...

Your writing is captivating. I just adore it and your whole blog. I found you through Meg, and I can't wait to spend some more time here.

emilia. said...

THANK YOU FOR TAKING THESE NOTES! i couldn't follow him around. But I wanted to.