My biggest fear as a writer is that the Grammar Police will hunt me down, confiscate my Ink Slinger’s Permit, and sentence me to Life Without Paper Or Ink.
You see, I’m not officially Licensed to Write. I don’t have an MFA degree, creative writing workshop certificate or good high school English scores.
I do have a poet’s ear for language, a musician’s sense of rhythm, and a child’s irrepressible imagination.
I don’t write by the book. I write by ear, like a musician. I’m an outlining junkie but when it gets down to the writing, the words tell me where they want to go.
They clamor to go right there, so they can roll across a reader’s tongue sweet and slippery as a butterscotch disc, or over there, so they can shimmy down your ear like a lilting little melody.
They beg to go there, where the fields are ripe, and there, where the sky is swollen, and oh yes, there – there – there, where the stars collide and the air is thick and the river runs wide.
My heart and mind and ear collectively intuit where the words should go according to beat and rhythm and whimsy in much the same way Predictive Text makes an educated guess at the typist’s desired words and phrases.
“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is . . . the inner music the words make.”
This Is How We Work, The Words And I
I sweat and starve and go sleepless practicing the craft while the words cavort with metaphors under the bramble bush, lob spitballs at syntax from behind the library stacks and play pick-up-stix with a pocketful of rhymes.
They refuse to be contained or coerced or captured in my butterfly net of productivity. They wake me at midnight with the promise of pixie dust and vanish like fireflies in the sunlight.
They flirt with the poetry books on the desk, hiss at the grammar manuals on the shelf and shamelessly consort with the colored pens spilling out of the top drawer.
But the moment I give them up as lost causes, they come rushing in, letter by letter, word by word, and sentence by sentence, and fill my page with their rolling vowels and clashing consonants.
“I’m not officially Licensed to Write . . . but I do have a child’s irrepressible imagination.”
They come rum-tum tumbling out of my fingertips, splashing onto the page in a jumble of ink, pausing briefly enough to panic me before gliding across the wide open white places and building word palaces and paragraph thoroughfares and the loveliest of letter landscapes, as in this playful passage of a husband and wife reading together in my short story “Tahitian Sunset”:
“Why do you always race to the end of a story?” he asks, his fingers swimming through my hair like clownfish through anemone.
I shift in the sand, burying my toes beneath his. “That’s where they live happily ever after.”
His chuckle glides up my spine, cool as the evening tide. “No, my butterfly loach, they live happily all along the way. Don’t you want to hear the whole story?”
One word never took so long to utter, a lifetime of want in three little letters. “Yes.”
He rises like a dolphin breaching the surface, gazing at me through eyes wide as tidal pools and just as full of surprises. “Then we can’t afford to skip one page, one paragraph, one sentence. Every syllable is rife with meaning, my lovely little angelfish.”
In Which We Rally, The Words And I
Well, hmmm. A funny thing happened on the way to the confessional booth. Now that I’ve acknowledged my Big Fear, it in no way resembles the frothing beastie I’ve been dodging all these years.
Therefore, we will not go gently into that good night, the words and I.
Sure, an Ink Slinger’s life can be a strange and wild ride, peppered with self-doubt, pockmarked by friendly fire and riddled with rejection.
But it’s also filled with curious companions and creative conundrums and puzzling phraseology. It’s riding on the coattails of quirky, hanging by the toes on a rippling row of rolly-polly o’s, and canoodling with consonance, assonance and their tow-headed cousin alliteration.
Watch me now. This is where I make my stand, folks.
From here on out, I’m adopting Elmore Leonard’s 11th Rule of Writing as my own: If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.
Hear us well, all you over-eager grammarians, for this is the Rebel Yell of the words and I:
Give us cadence or give us silence!
Until they strip me of my pen and paper – I remain ardently yours
Lady Bullish, Rogue Ink Slinger
Ruth Long is a forty-something administrative professional who enjoys fast-paced stories, vintage cars and southern rock. A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, storytelling is her passion.
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