by Bill Roorbach
Story Press, 1998
Mmmm. This one. Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stores/ How to make memories into memoirs, ideas into essays and life into literature. It’s going on the to-be-referenced-often shelf here in my office. At 56, living in a small town, it’s not easy to find stellar classes in creative writing. So I am always so grateful when someone like Roorbach makes a virtual semester available between the covers of a book.
He tends to the basics, but when are we ever beyond remembering the importance of “clarity, motion, density, rhythm, precision, texture and urgency” – those elements so necessary to convey what we intend in a way that beckons the reader. And though the focus is memoir, what he covers applies readily to any form of prose writing.
The writing exercises scattered throughout the book (and which he continually chides not just to read but to go ahead, open the notebook, grab the pen, come on, do it! ) gave me starts to several new pieces.
Beyond that I’ve got a raft of new quotes to use with my writing groups and retreats, and material for several good handouts drawn from his discussions on metaphor, dialogue, and the essay. There was a fascinating section on the history of essays. It seems Montaigne began writing the Essais only after the death of his close friend Etienne de La Boetie. He may have used his writing and his readers to satisfy that need to share thoughts and ideas with another.
It was from the section on Montaigne that Roorbach offered the exercise that got me out of a bit of writer’s slump. He called it a connectional exercise: Think of each day’s work as a try. Nothing more, nothing less. This may be a radical bit of thought restructuring. And instead of applying the labels memoir or essay or piece or article say, “Try.” Just to yourself. Just for now. (62)