Monday, March 28, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Outermost House by Henry Beston Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

          The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston is the memoir of a writer who built a two-room house on Cape Cod overlooking the ocean. His keen observations on nature make this book a classic.

          Henry Beston was quoted by Mary Oliver in Blue Pastures on page 34. She highly recommended Chapter III “The Headlong Wave” in The Outermost House.


He devotes a single chapter—and it is no brief chapter—to a description of his constant companion, the ocean wave, that form, that long tumult, that energy with its “wisps of watery noise, splashes and counter splashes, whispers, seething, slaps and chucklings.”…He describes waves which come onto the beach on quiet days, windy days, long days of storm, and nights too… (page 45 in The Outermost House)


          In the summer of 1924, Beston began living for a year on Eastham Beach hearing the waves every moment, in every season, in all kinds of weather, seeing them during the day every time he looked out a window and anytime he took a walk. This familiarity led to inspiration. He writes 18 pages capturing waves in all their forms. It is a masterclass on verbs of muscle and adjectives of exactitude as extolled by Mary Oliver.

          My favorite passages in Chapter III are:

The rhythm of waves beats in the sea like a pulse in living flesh. It is pure force, forever embodying itself in a succession of watery shapes which vanish on its passing. (page 47)

Far out at sea, in the northeast and near the horizon, is a pool of the loveliest blue I have ever seen here—a light blue, a petal blue, blue of the emperor’s gown in a Chinese fairy tale. (pp. 49-50)


          Beston doesn’t limit himself to describing waves. He also records the variations of weather, seasonal changes, birds, insects, strolls, “treasures” washed ashore or away, and his own feelings and thoughts about solitude.

The dune bank was washing away…under the onslaught of the seas…there crumbled out the blackened skeleton of an ancient wreck…As the tide rose this ghost floated and lifted itself free…There was something inconceivably spectral in the sight of this dead hulk thus stirring from its grave and yielding its bones again into the fury of the gale. (page 88)

From the moment that I rose in the morning and threw open my door looking toward the sea to the moment when the spurt of a match sounded in the evening quiet of my solitary house, there was always something to do, something to observe, something to record, something to study, something to put aside in a corner of the mind. There was the ocean in all weathers and at all tides, now grey and lonely and veiled in winter rain, now sun-bright, coldly green, and marbled with dissolving foam…the little family gatherings of winter birds; there was the glory of the winter sky rolling out of the ocean over and across the dunes…(pp. 91-92)

          Great writing needs inspiration and time to observe, consider, scribble, rewrite, and edit. We can’t all go to a little cottage on the coast for a year, but we can make the most of the writing time we do have—jot, jot, jot until you can get back to your desk.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reads for Writers: Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver Includes Great Writing Advice

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Writers should be perspicacious; poets have to be. The job description requires discernment and perception when choosing which moments to capture as well as the essential words to create true poetry.

          Among the very best is Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, who publishes both poems and prose. I highly recommend her poems “The Summer Day” on page 60 of House of Light; “Wild Geese” on page 14 of Dream Work; and “This World” on page 27 of Why I Wake Early among many, many others. I wrote about her book, Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay, in a post dated 4/28/14.

           From the title, I thought Blue Pastures would be more luminous writings about nature—her favorite topic—and it is, but it’s also her story of becoming a poet and writer.

          These are only a few of my favorite lines and passages:

                    …at my desk…I am deep in the machinery of my wits. (p. 1)

In truth, the work itself is the adventure. And no artist could go about this work, or would want to, with less than extraordinary energy and concentration. The extraordinary is what art is about. (p. 5)

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time. (p. 7)

I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way—they were strangers, and lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, and powerful, and amazing. That is, they said amazing things, and for me it changed the world. (p. 13)

Art: hope, vision, the soul’s need to speak. (p. 49)

Poetry, after all, is not a miracle. It is an effort to formalize (ritualize) individual moments and the transcending effects of these moments into a music that all can use. It is the song of our species. (page 59)

It takes about

seventy hours to drag

a poem into

the light.


…the blank piece of paper, and my own energy…(p. 70)

Look for verbs of muscle, adjectives of exactitude. (p. 89)

[I have this taped to my computer monitor.]

Each of us brings to the poem, to the moving pen, a world of echoes.

(p. 109)

We react, we imitate, we imagine, we invent. (p. 111)

          While I’ve been reading Mary Oliver’s work for over a decade, I somehow missed Blue Pastures until recently, much to my dismay. Now it’s one of my top recommendations for writers as part of learning to give their creative work power and time, muscle and exactitude.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Word I Love

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Last week I reviewed One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe edited by Molly McQuade. This week I wrote about a word I love. In fact, it's my word of the year.
          My favorite word is perspicacious, an adjective based on the noun perspicacity. I would have picked perspicacity, but it’s too harsh sounding when pronounced. Perspicacious rolls off the tongue.

          I think being perspicacious—acutely perceptive, discerning—is like having a super power. It makes you an excellent judge of character, intuitive, wise, and a better writer as words like perspicacious reinforce the importance of finding the right word instead of dragging your writing down with explanatory phrases.

          When I looked up perspicacious in The American Heritage Dictionary to double check the definition, I discovered perspicuity, defined as the quality of being perspicuous, with the sentence example “He was at pains to insist on the perspicuity of what he wrote.” Perspicuous is defined as clearly expressed or presented.

Professional writers are required to clearly express themselves by using the right words—to be exact. To find the right words, I recommend referring to The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale and the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. They will help you become a perspicacious writer.


          For more information, I wrote about these two books in a post dated 6/9/14.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Reads For Writers: One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe edited by Molly McQuade

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          If you want a few laughs or points to ponder, read One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe edited by Molly McQuade. It’s a perfect book to open at random although starting with words you love or loathe works as well.

          There are essays on familiar words like blog, dive, and verb. Unfamiliar words to me: darb, floccinaucinihilipilification, and solmizate. Unbelievable words—who has strong feelings about as, line, or pants? (Brenda Hillman, Eleanor Wilner, and Nathaniel Taylor with good reasons.) And hilarious choices like eek, ickybicky, and sweetie.

          The essays on prefer and riff are filled with literary references. Echo and half-light are poetically described. Eye and topsoil are scientifically discussed. And word origins are sometimes included. A great deal is learned by reading these essays besides whether a word is loved or loathed.

          What word do you love or loathe enough to write an essay about?

          I’ll share my essay about a word I love or loathe next week.