My memoir is out. It’s published. It’s real. It’s a book. I didn’t do it alone. A lot of people contributed to making it happen. I’d like to tell about Priscilla Long, my mentor in so many ways, particularly in learning to appreciate the art of the sentence.
I’ve been a student in Pricilla’s classes since 2006. When I first walked into her classroom, I had never heard of compound-complex sentences. I had a vague idea of what a compound sentence was. The adverbial clause of manner was totally new to me. I guess I was spaced out in English classes in high school and college.
At the time I thought, “This sophisticated sentence work doesn’t apply to me and my work. I just write from the gut.” I never thought of sentence structure or paragraph structure.
Priscilla has a unique ability to help writers apply craft to their own work. In her classes we wrote sentence and paragraphs—hundreds of them. Priscilla always said we should apply the exercises to what we were working on. She stressed, “Don’t do the exercise for the sake of completing an exercise.”
One of Priscilla’s favorite writing techniques is the list sentence. She loves lists of words for the opportunity they provide for wordplay, for listening to sound and rhythm. So when I was writing about welding, she gave us an assignment to write a list of ten sets of words or phrases that pertained to the piece I was working on.
This was my list:
- electrical stimulation, electrical currents, electrodes
- roll forming, hydro-forming, folding, finishing
- cold cracking, hot cracking, worm holes
- come-along winch, grip-hoist winch, powered warn winch
- cable, clamp, stingers
- protective long sleeve “bib” leather cape, leather chaps, heavy leather gloves
- hydrogen, argon helium
- molybdenum, tantalum, tungsten rods
- butt joint, lap joint, corner joint, edge joint, T-joint
- dials, knobs, gages
By creating this list, I had concrete words pertaining to welding that I could use when I wrote the welding piece in my memoir. I could feel the shipyard. I was there. I could write with detail, with feeling.
Priscilla has laid out all her understanding of virtuosity in writing in her book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life. I highly recommend it. You can find out more about it on her website: www.priscillalong.com.
There’s more to the story. Stay tuned.