What I Was Reading:
I have been slowly reading through One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle. This compilation of some of the best of Doyle’s writing, celebrates the wonder we can find in everyday moments when we stop, look, and listen. I’m trying to read only a few essays at a time and follow Doyle’s lead by using them as an invitation to look for the wonder (and the possibilities for writing) in my own surroundings.
“The Old Typewriter in the Basement” is one of my favorites from this collection. Written as a response to a question about how he became a writer, Doyle celebrates the impact of his father’s writing career on his own.
What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
- The first thing I notice is that “The Old Typewriter in the Basement” is a mash-up of first-person essay, memoir, and poem.
- Doyle uses repetition as he lists his reasons for becoming a writer by introducing each new idea with “Because.” At first, the responses come quickly, with each new sentence starting with because. As he progresses, elaborating more on each memory, the pattern changes and “Because” appears at the beginning of each new stanza.
- The central focus is the typewriter, but Doyle uses his relationship with it to reveal details about his father: “Because his typewriter was a tall older model that he loved and kept using even when sleek electric typewriters came into vogue and tried to vibrate their way onto his desk.”
- Doyle fills this piece with images such as “you could listen to it like a song,” and “you could see by the pattern of wear which letters he used more than others” that help us imagine the scenes through his childhood eyes and ears.
Possibilities for Writers:
- Use the same structure as a model for your own writing. Begin with a why question and answer it with a list of reasons starting with “Because…”
- Experiment with the technique of repetition to embed a list into another type of writing.
- Use an object as a springboard for describing someone.
- Try combining the elements of more than one form into a single piece of writing.
- Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader. Try some of them in your own writing.