From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Category: inspiration

A Case for the Bookstore

bookstore_1I never write papers in Swem.

Unpopular as that opinion may be, I can explain. As an English major, I have spent much of my college career writing papers. In the pursuit of enjoying this experience as much as possible, I have experimented with many locations around campus; however, I have had varying degrees of success. I have tried various academic buildings, my dorm room or lounge, and of course Swem and Swemromas. Academic buildings and dorms rooms are never quite right, although the new ISC is growing on me (in large part due to the Starbucks). Even though many students consider Swem a studying haven, I never produce my best work on any of Swem’s four floors. Instead, when it comes time for me to sit down and write, I often opt for the William & Mary bookstore in Merchants Square.

The bookstore is an ideal place for me and my writing process. I love being surrounded by tables of interesting books and the quiet, cozy atmosphere of the bookstore. The Café is usually quiet and relaxed, with the occasional dimmed conversation or the sound of the espresso machine from Starbucks; the patio, just separated enough from the bustling DOG Street, is typically serene (you may even get to pet a dog!). As a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, I love the ready availability of Starbucks’ Pike Place roast. I am also a fair-weather writer in the most literal sense. I do some of my best writing sitting outside in the sunshine with an iced coffee in hand. In fact, I have written entire final papers at one of the tables on the bookstore patio or sitting at a table in front of a window in the cafe on chillier days.

The one downfall of the bookstore is its somewhat unreliable wi-fi, especially when sitting outside. However, as part of my writing process, I do any research in advance, creating an outline that I can then work from. When I actually sit down to write my paper, I already have all of the information I need. In my case, the lack of reliable wifi at the bookstore actually motivates me to stay focused on my assignment, rather than hindering my progress.

I understand that everyone’s writing process is unique, so the bookstore may not be the best spot for all writers. However, I encourage you to always be willing to try a new writing spot, even if you think your current spot is working. I have found that, sometimes, the best way to overcome writer’s block or a lack of motivation is to switch things up! So if you venture over to the bookstore to write your next paper, I might just meet you there.

 

Image from “Living In Williamsburg” http://livinginwilliamsburgvirginia.blogspot.com/

The Abbey Road Medley and Writing

Transitions and conclusions vex me, and I think many writers feel similarly. I know it matters that I carry my reader along with me from paragraph to paragraph, but I also don’t want to drag them. I’m looking for something between a sentence that begins with “Now I will transition…” and nothing at all.

Not that it’s so terrible to be direct, at least the first time. However, variety is the key if you really want to impress with style, and I think we can take the medley on the B-side of Abbey Road as an example of a variety of transitions. The Abbey Road Medley is a series of eight songs that transition easily from one to the next, but in different, creative ways. The first transition, from “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “Sun King” is possibly the most subtle. The song itself actually ends, in terms of the chords, rhythm and melody. All the voices and instruments fade away, until the listener is left with the sound of a strange little cricket.

The cricket is a small detail, something irrelevant to the music. However, the cricket’s chirp continues across the break between the tracks, and just like that the group makes the transition. The Beatles can continue with “Sun King,” one of Lennon’s trippy, relaxed songs in the tradition of “Dear Prudence,” knowing that their listener is still with them. Being insinuated comfortably into this song makes a considerable difference. “Sun King” itself is droning and otherworldly, and written in nonsense Portuguese. This leaves us with the question of how to transition out.

The answer the Beatles gave was letting the last chord, the resolution, of “Sun King” run into the next song, “Mean Mr Mustard,” basically moving the break slightly into “Sun King.” Although “Mean Mr Mustard” now begins with a chord that is very misleading, that’s mostly a problem if you’re analyzing “Mean Mr Mustard” as a discrete song or listening to the song in reverse. As much as I like this track, I don’t know of anyone who listens to it that way. Interestingly, the ending is the exact opposite. “Mean Mr Mustard” simply ends.

“Polythene Pam” begins abruptly. The listener knows another track must be coming because “Mean Mr Mustard” has concluded, so the next track, giving you no downtime whatsoever, gets right down to business with a hard and fast chord progression that comes back with the chorus. If every transition was this abrupt, the listener would be disoriented, but it’s refreshing as one form of transition among others.

Abbey Road

Much like sentence structure, I find the key to good transitions is variety. I’ve tried to use the medley from Abbey Road to demonstrate a few different ways to transition between paragraphs, and if you listen to the medley, you may be inspired by a few more I couldn’t articulate here. Hopefully you’ll even find some inspiration regarding conclusions.

Review: Tiny Beautiful Things

“You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.”

strayed_bookcoverIn Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed provides one of the most elegant, sweepingly empathetic perspectives on life and love that I have ever read. Whether she is reflecting on writer’s block, the stages of grief, or marriage jitters, her words are drawn directly from her wealth of hard-earned wisdom and unconditional compassion. I stayed up long hours into the night with this book over winter break, rereading sentence after beautiful sentence. Each page gripped me as a reader and inspired me as a writer.   

The book is a collection of letters Strayed has received throughout her time as “Sugar,” an advice columnist for therumpus.net. In response to a mother grieving her miscarried daughter, she recounts her experience as a youth advocate for a group of struggling preteen girls. She gives her letter-writer the same advice her students received: their circumstances will not become any less painful, so to escape it, they will have to “reach.”

Strayed answers many of the letters in this way; her personal anecdotes create an instant bond of lived experience that underlies her responses. What makes her advice so poignant is that rather than directly answering her readers’ questions, she contextualizes them. She reminds a young, insecure writer not to expect instant success. She tells a hesitant boyfriend that the terms of “I love you” can change. By broadening her readers’ scope of consideration, Strayed empowers them to see their emotions as valid. With the acceptance of that simple thought, so much is possible.

Two of my friends and fellow WRC consultants recommended Tiny Beautiful Things to me, and I’m so grateful that this book appeared in my life during college. In an environment that always demands that we have the “right” answers–whether on Scantrons or in interviews–Strayed’s radical empathy reminds me that they don’t exist. There will never be a time where we become objectively enough: a good enough writer, student, friend. Instead, we can only keep trying. We can keep reaching out to the people around us and challenging ourselves to higher levels of authenticity. So long as we “give it all [we] got,” we are more than enough.

Check out the book and Strayed’s column in the links below; you owe it to yourself.  

Tiny Beautiful Things

Dear Sugar Column

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