September 16, 2013
Award-winning author Jennifer Pashley visited Hamilton College this past Tuesday to teach creative writing students about how to make their crafts, well, pure like meth.
Pashley led a discussion in visiting Professor Gibb’s Introduction to Creative Writing course in which she began the discussion by accidentally yet accurately comparing short stories to methamphetamines. “There’s something about taking all the stuff and turning it into something pure,” said Pashley, referring to the beauty of condensing so many ideas and emotions into such few words.
Pashley offered valuable insight into how her writing comes to be. A brave student raised her hand and asked where Pashley gets her material. “I steal it from people at parties,” Pashley said with a smirk. “I am always listening, a lot of it is observation.” Just as the famous phrase goes: write what you know.
However Pashley acknowledged that many times she writes what she does not know. “A character sort of comes to me and I let them tell me what they have to say,” Pashley said to the class. “It’s like letting a ball of string unravel.” Pashley informed the students that everyone has their own pace, rhythm and style.
Pashley’s unique writing style incorporates a carefully constructed stream of consciousness. Her stories “Magic,” “What You Know” and “Bust” feel like words flowing onto the page in rhythm. Her advice for writers is to practice, and the rhythm will develop and stick.
Pashley acknowledged such habits allow you to write without a concrete plan. With a consistent writing style, there is familiarity about how things will go. The final piece to forming that craft is the physical aspect. Pashley preached to ignore tiny grammatical errors, “You can go back. You might kill the momentum you have going.”
The discussion jumped to specific techniques and themes featured in Pashley’s work. Most of the author’s works are gritty, realistic takes on the world that figuratively pulls the reader into the story. Pashley uses the second person in “Magic” and “What You Know,” almost making the reader feel as if they are a disgruntled woman whose husband is at war, or a young teenager struggling to choose a presentation topic.
Addressing the reader as the character in the story helps Pashley gain the reader’s attention. The writing becomes intimate for both the author and the reader.
By the end of one of Pashley’s stories, the reader is ready for the resolution. However, Pashley told the class the story does not have to be tied up with a red bow. In fact, none of Pashley’s stories are resolved.
“You can’t make that stuff happen,” Pashley said. “It’s just like real people. They go on.” The advice sparked a change in the classroom environment; a much calmer, relieved feel among the students.
Pashley’s baron yet emotion filled tone communicated that it is understandable for creative writing to be gloomy. On her characters, Pashley said, “I do feel empathy for them. It’s art. That’s the point. I don’t feel for someone who is all sunshine and roses.”
Later that night, Pashley read three of her short stories in The Events Barn. The final work titled “Angels” won the 2012 Carve Magazine Esoteric Award. Students and faculty listened in as Pashley took the podium and shared her art.