Tuesday, April 5th, 2016
When I shifted from non-fiction to fiction 10 years ago, I was convinced that I needed to start with a clean slate; in other words, not attempt both at the same time–as though they were separate streams of consciousness. My colleague and I had not quite finished Women’s Ways of Leading at the time, but we rushed to finish. After all, in fiction there is surprise, and scenes, and tension, conflict and sex, while in non-fiction…few of the previous approaches are usually present.
When my colleague Mary recently said that my non-fiction (in a new text entitled Liberating Leadership Capacity) had benefited from the writing of The Justine Trilogy, well, I had to reexamine my assumptions. Was there more of a confluence than I imagined? I am using “confluence” here to mean the processes of merging and emerging. This is what I notice: language flows more easily, like rivers coming together; language choice is more poetic; cognitive dissonance echoes tension; touches of mystery and romance provide glimpses into wisdom.
Would I advise dappling in fiction and non-fiction at the same time? Sure–it’s a fertile playground. An adventure. Camus might call it absurdism, but writers have often created reciprocity between and among novels and essays.
We are off to Washington, D. C. for the release of the new text–then to New York to see our granddaughter and a few plays….
Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
My colleagues and I will be signing our new text at the American Educational
Research Association in Washington, D. C., Sunday, April 10. The subtitle, Pathways
to Educational Wisdom captures those notions about leadership that transcend
usual practice to answer this question: What insights and epiphanies lead us
beyond the horizon of ordinary into the realm of wisdom?
Sunday, June 8th, 2014
That’s how Anthony Tommasini titled his excellent column on music and dissonance (NYT, June 1, 14). In reference to Milton’s use of “barbaric dissonance,” the author waded–no–jumped right into the many understandings of dissonance from politics, to music, to psychology. I had been the most familiar with cognitive dissonance as that state of internal tension arising from contradictions, confusions, that we must make right. Those eternal puzzles that cause our heads to spin. Problems that leap at us during the night and steal our sleep away.
Well, Tommasini’s discussion of the clashing, barbarous, discordant sounds in music are not unlike those tight-wire puzzles in novels. Such cases of dissonance indeed set “the senses on edge.” Here are a few cases that occur to me at the moment when the author:
1) dangles a subtle unknown before the reader with just a brush of puzzlement. What could this mean? Lead to?
2) two barbarous acts confront the reader, yet the narrator isn’t aware of the contradiction. You want to cry out–look, can’t you see!
3) a fine mesh of small descriptors about a character hints at impending transformation–or disaster! We don’t know which.
4) a directly-declared, barbaric crime (Sherlock-style), yet you know that there will be nothing direct or obvious about the resolution. Arthur Conan Doyle makes sure of that.
Next up: Norman Mailer’s hunt to find a narrator “more intelligent than he was.”
Monday, December 30th, 2013
Post Dec. 28
The story of the two Kents (Haruf and Nelson) in my last post represented two ends of the cognition spectrum: stories that spring organically from experience…and stories that present themselves in a more systematic way. The common ingredient: imagination and fine writing.
Imagination is still the driving force, regardless of how we bring it to life. Because I had written non-fiction texts in leadership before turning to the novel genre, I brought along many strategies that serve me well in my former life. Many of those strategies got in the way!! They had to be discarded, often painfully.
In non-fiction, a writer leads the reader down a primrose path to understanding, bridging and looping ideas, repeating key points, closing arguments—all in service of thorough understanding.
But what about: Surprise? Puzzlement? Tension? Not if you can help it.My first draft of a novel read like a graduate thesis. But surely some practices served me well in fiction as well as non-fiction…what were they?
1) The discipline of writing—writing every day.
2) Tenacity—staying with the project until it is done.
3) Getting the ideas and story down quickly, revising later.
4) Not personalizing critique from self and others.
5) Rewriting, then rewriting again.
Next…New Habits for Writing a Novel