I don’t usually just point readers to another article elsewhere, but Michael Erard’s Escaping One’s Own Shadow over on the New York Times opinion pages strikes me as well worth reading and too complex to really do justice to here.
It’s not the focus of the piece, but the phrase “I’m a dancer who walks for a living” struck a chord for me as I have been paid to write many things that don’t necessarily coincide with either the content or style I aim for in my own writing.
Recently, for example, I wrote a travel piece which included a description of Spanish women at a fiesta, whose “colourful fans flick and furl like the wings of exotic butterflies.”
I know that’s what the client wanted and what their customers like to read, but I would reject it from any poem as too wordy and purple.**
I do enjoy occasionally being encouraged – and paid – to be self-indulgent with adjectives and clichés, and thought it was probably a good way to get them out of my system. Sadly, the article suggests that if this is a style I use frequently, I may in fact be ‘priming’ my brain to produce the same kind of writing on other occasions.
Perhaps it’s just as well that other recent projects have included technical reports, business correspondence and writing for children. Hopefully this constant change will keep me on my toes.
**There are no doubt pieces on this blog that are just as extreme, but they are not usually recent, and they are posted here to entertain, not because I think they are good poetry.