THE BRAIDED ESSAY: AN INTERTWINED FORM
By Julia Shipley
Pretend I’ve brought a piece of baling twine to show
you. I’m teasing apart a frayed end to show that rope is really a bunch of
individual strands that form something new. Like rope, life is made up of
disparate strands, some of which you would not expect to tangle and embrace
one another. I love braided essays for their ability to plait together things
that one might not normally connect.
A braided essay does the work of mending divisions
that we've become used to between This and That. It does a little repair work
A regular essay has a one main idea and is usually
supported by a couple of examples. Sometimes an essay has two ideas that it
explores (compare and contrast, pros and cons). A braided essay takes at
least two topics (sometimes whacko topics like intensive rotational grazing
and the landscape paintings of artist Milton Avery), and explores genuine
links and congruencies between these topics, and sometimes, because of this
investigation/consideration, a third strand emerges, “mortality” or the “urge
to create.” Or sometimes the author builds that third strand right in it. I
recently finished an essay that braided the ideas about soil science, a road
trip to Iowa,
and Walt Whitman. Herein lies the fun and the challenge, because you have to
earn the reader’s trust, and you must not yank them around simply for the joy
of making links. Your braided work must repair or hold or contain something
of value to be worth the reader’s time.
In the book Writing
Creative Nonfiction (ed. Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard), contributor
Brenda Miller writes about her discovery of the braided essay. “I began to
adopt the structure of fragmented, numbered sections for much of my prose.
And I began to see more clearly that this form wasn’t just about
fragmentation and juxtaposition; it wasn’t really about mosaic I was after.
There was more a sense of weaving about it, of interruption and continuation,
like the braiding of bread, or of hair. I had to keep my eye focused on the
single image that held them all together.”
Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, braids a whole book-length narrative in For The Time Being, which explores the
natural history of sand, clouds, newborns in an obstetrical ward, and a
family of Mongol horsemen.
This form may prove frustrating or confusing—so if
you lose your way—good. That means something fresh and surprising is about to
manifest in your writing. If you’re really stymied, try plaiting two ideas
instead of three. (The third will probably emerge anyway.)
Please remember that this form is here to serve you,
to allow you to exhibit the content you wish to share, the way a basket holds
apples or a bird’s nest holds speckled eggs.
Most of all, have fun, and keep writing.
operates a writer’s retreat in Craftsbury,
Vermont. Her retreat will be
available at reduced rate for stays of 30+ days from December 1, 2011 to May
1, 2012. To reach Julia Shipley,
please dial 802-586-7733 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.writingonthefarm.com
By Adilah Barnes
As writers, many of us find it challenging to just
sit down and begin writing. Add to that, those of us who are also procrastinators
about doing anything, and we can
find ourselves with a laundry list of many other things to do before we
settle down to let the pen or keyboard begin their movement.
I have begun to try to find “fun” ways to roll up
my sleeves and give voice to my literary expression. I share with you below
some refreshing ways that may work for you:
FINDING THE RIGHT PLACE TO WRITE
computer - Many of us traditionally sit at our computers
to write. If this is the case, we can add appealing elements by lighting an
aromatherapy candle, incense, propping up our chairs with a comfortable
pillow for our backs or bottoms, and allowing ourselves the sound of
soothing jazz in the background to take us to a place where our thoughts
can flow effortlessly.
of pace – If we have a laptop, we may also want to change
our writing environment. Take your laptop to the sofa in the living room,
at a dining room table, outside on a deck or patio, or go out to a
Starbucks or library to feel the synergy of others and by adding stimuli
that keep us engaged. When I was writing my book, I would periodically
write outside at The Indian Canyon in Palm
Springs on my laptop amid palm trees and the
beauty of nature. A setting like that can be especially stimulating.
workshop – I find it inspiring to take a writing workshop
from time to time where I am surrounded my other writers who, in silence,
are all writing organically from exercises given by the instructor and
sharing afterward aloud what came from the guided exercises. Hearing the
work of others and receiving feedback from the instructor and participants
can be extremely rewarding.
SWITCHING UP FROM THE COMPUTER
as a spiritual experience - I sometimes enjoy stretching
out on my sofa or propping my pillows behind my head as I write on a
notepad. I am generally clad in pajamas in the evening while in bed
writing. I may take a bath first to release the day and have a hot cup of
herbal tea nearby that soothes and nurtures my body and soul at the same time.
Again, jazz can be added to this tranquil time. I have found this to be an
especially relaxing way to allow thoughts and feelings to come forth
paper and pen - Most of us use computers nowadays, because it
is quicker. We can edit as we go and save directly onto our computers.
However, I occasionally enjoy taking the time to make direct contact with
my pen and paper again. It is a more personal way of allowing my literary
voice to come through and there is something about touching the paper and
making contact with a good pen.
CHOOSING A WRITING TIME
Choosing a specific time and day of the week to
write is a very disciplined way to force a procrastinating writer to write.
There is no getting around that date to write and after a while, it can
become as much a ritual as brushing our teeth each morning. It does not
matter how long the writing sessions, only that they happen.
Meditating, walking, journaling, or doing some
spiritual reading first are also excellent ways to surrender and segue into
a designated writing time.
Whatever the choices, the process still boils down
to getting started. Enjoy some of these different ways to approach your
Adilah Barnes can be reached at www.writersretreat.com (Georgia
location) or email@example.com
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