My Writing: Before And After Learning Abt. Prose Style

[This Post Was Taken From A 5/31/20 Entry In My Journal]

“I’m going to give it to you straight, writing takes effort. You can’t write a passage once a month and expect to become a major selling author. This is something I was forced to open my eyes to and something every writer should know.”

– Jamal H. Goodwin Jr., Create Before You Critique, January 2016

“My insistence on the merits of style is not meant to discount genre. Readers should know what experience they desire and be able to purchase it. But it’s undeniable that style precedes genre. Otherwise, besides plot, all detective stories would read the same!”

– Jamal H. Goodwin Jr., The Macchia of Literature, March 2020

College has done a lot of good for me. My drive to learn combined with Temple’s abundant opportunities created a mental machine, a writing windmill with infinite energy. The wheel’s turning is constant and electric. Touch and you’ll get zapped.

It’s funny how many people told me I didn’t need college to be a writer, how many people raised an eyebrow when I declared I was an English major. They said, “but you could just start your book now. You could self-publish. Write for practice and you’ll learn everything you need.”

There are many writers out there. The writing community on Twitter alone likely comprises of hundreds of thousands of people. Many are successful, and many have a degree outside of English or no degree at all.

Still, many DO have a degree. The entire world of literary fiction is dominated by pompous or reticent, avant-garde MFA holders. And unconventional knowledge of groups like OULIPO or works like Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations? I’d be hard pressed to find any normal person, any non-writer tell me about them.

And these literary works/groups aren’t trending on the internet. Everything is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. It’d be a miracle if non-college Jamal found out about Weike Wang’s Chemistry or Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine.

I say all of this to say, my approach to writing has changed since going to college. A concrete example is my acquired knowledge on prose. It’s hard to believe I even knew that word in high school, but now that I’ve learned the rules of prose, I’ll never forget it. Poetry is poetry, and not-poetry is prose. And I must say, my prose was weaker when I was younger. I used to use or eschew commas willy-nilly, not knowing they demarcated phrases and parentheticals.

The first quote I used at the beginning of this entry is of an article I wrote for my high school newspaper. My first sentence in that quote uses a comma incorrectly; it separates two clauses, making it a comma splice, which is a type of fused sentence. The second quote is from a more recent work, and I use commas in it correctly. The line “besides plot” is in-between two commas; it’s a parenthetical. High school me had no knowledge of sentence types or basic grammar rules.

Interestingly, young-me did have some good sentences up his sleeve. What’s below comes from my fanfic of Tananarive Due’s African Immortals series:

“Dawit’s wife, Jessica, was once a mortal herself, until Dawit feared he’d lose her forever and forced the ceremony upon her.”

– Jamal H. Goodwin Jr., Teka’s Travels, December 2014

In the excerpt, before I knew what the technique was, I used an appositive (“Jessica” stands in for “Dawit’s wife”) and a subordinate conjunction and clause (“until Dawit feared…”). I suppose some grammar techniques are picked up after frequent reading/writing.

My knowledge attained thus far excites me. Knowing the names of the skills I’ve used allows me to use and not use them at will.

One thought on “My Writing: Before And After Learning Abt. Prose Style

  1. I think everyone has their own opinion on college. I’m on the same boat as you, college has taught me a lot–even if it’s only for my passion. I only ever realized it afterwards, “Which employer needs an English Literature and Creative Writing graduate?!” I do admit that things have been difficult on the job front. It’s been tough, but learning more about writing techniques, analyzing authors you like and dislike, having mentors help you improve your writing…All that was worth it, and I don’t regret a single semester. ❤
    PS: Glad you mentioned Kathy Acker. I only ever read Blood & Guts in High School but remember any of it. Gotta dig into that again.

    Liked by 1 person

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