University of Delaware Writing Center

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What Miles Davis Can Teach Us About Writing

The New York Times’ Opinionator blog has an ongoing series called Draft about the art and craft of writing. Today, Aaron Gilbreath looks at Miles Davis and how the sparsity of his solos tell stories in their silences and how writers can do well by doing the same.

Where David Foster Wallace showed writers like me the possibilities of labyrinthine stories and digressions, Davis showed me how to be affecting without being opaque, lyrical without being verbose. Editing imbued each of Davis’s notes with more weight. It also let his melodic lines breathe, an effect that highlighted the depth and strength of his lyricism. No matter the tempo, Davis’s precise, deft touch produced solos whose moods ranged from buoyant to brooding, mournful to sweet.

Many writers fall prey to the quintessential American notion that bigger is better. They overload their sentences, adding more adjectives, more descriptions, more component phrases, tangents and appositives to form sprawling, syntactical centipedes (like this one) whose many segments and exhausting procession repeat themselves and say the same thing in different ways, with different words, and exhibit an entire ideology: that prose’s sensory and poetic impacts exist in direct proportion to the concentration of words.

Aaron Gilbreath, New York Times. Writing with Miles Davis.

Video: Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary, via Legacy Recordings.

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Adored University of Delaware community,

Just as a heads up the Writing Center will open for the fall semester on September 4 at 9 AM.  We can’t wait to start a new semester with all of you!


Your Tutors

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The nice thing about writing is that there are many different approaches, and readers are cooperative creatures with nimble minds: teach them early on how you like to transition, and they’ll learn to dance to the beat of your rhythm.
Have you read Edan’s latest “Ask the Writing Teacher” yet? You should. It’s about transitions, which are always hard. Now you don’t have to start every new scene with “Meanwhile…” (via thefeeling)

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Barry Michels, Therapist for Blocked Screenwriters

As tutors, we might often feel that we double as a breed of therapist with a very specific expertise.  Tutorial sessions, like visits to a therapist, often begin with a discussion of the latent problems the client is experiencing in their work.  Once the issues are identified, the tutor will work with the student to formulate a strategy for overcoming their problems.  However, we don’t deal with helping someone process childhood trauma or their unexplained and crippling fear of ducks and foreigners.  As tutors, we handle issues like the unfortunate absence of articles or the Oxford comma, a deep-seated hatred of the semicolon, and that loathsome demon that plagues anyone who’s ever picked up a pencil, writer’s block.

In this article fromThe New Yorker, a therapist who deals with patients encountering writer’s block shares his unconventional advice and methods for helping his clients overcome their obstacles.  Although Barry Michels works primarily with screenwriters and other big names in the entertainment industry, it’s certainly interesting to think about how his methods might apply to written work that we can encounter at the Writing Center.

What do you think, adored readers?  Even if you’re not totally familiar with psychology (I’m totally not), do you find Michels’ methods and ideas applicable to situations of writer’s block in academic, creative, or professional writing?

-Gabrielle V.

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