Concerning Craft: Five writing archetypes

Man in hiking clothes standing on top of a rock, looking out over mountains

Kelechi Nwankwoala is a junior studying creative writing and molecular biology at Johns Hopkins University. His work has been published in the Apprentice Writer, Crooked Teeth Magazine, and J-magazine. He hopes to one day have a burrow of his own.

Kelechi’s poem “2019 Unrest” appears in our Summer 2020 issue and was a finalist in the 2020 Pratt Library Poetry Contest. His guest post is part of our “Concerning Craft” series.

Kelechi reads his poem “2019 Unrest” as part of our digital launch for the Summer 2020 issue.

When it comes to writing, only experience can teach you anything substantial. Nevertheless, amateurs and professionals alike seek and have sought to give desperate initiates a way to think about the craft they are engaged to and in. The truth of the matter is that writing is a personal endeavor, and the tips and tricks, rules, and metaphors one receives typically reflect the unique inclinations of the individual who proffers them, rather than any capital-T truth about what makes a sentence like “the hollow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolita” sing.

As it is with love, hearing about how others have done it cannot save you from making mistakes. Ultimately, we must overcome all the assimilated practices and find our own form of being, but in the beginning, received ideas can keep the conscious mind engaged, focused on a particular vision, and for some artists—like me, who always likes to think as I do—nothing else is more vital.

In that spirit, I want to offer you some possibilities, a few writing metaphors, to consider and inhabit when you are stuck in one place, or when you have gotten tired of where being yourself has gotten you. Consider these metaphors separate doors leading into the same sprawling house. Though they go into the same space, they are of different shapes and sizes, and so represent distinct journeys, methods, mind states, priorities, and possibilities. No one door is sufficient by itself. It is my hope that you use each as it suits you and the needs of your work.

The first archetype is that of the adventurer/investigator. In this role, the writer possesses extreme optimism, daring, and curiosity. Seeking to discover something, they set out into the world blindly, knowing that ignorance is the mother of discovery. The stalwart explorer travels in all directions, haphazardly, taking care not to miss anything as they rush to and fro. Along the way, trudging uphill through blistering winds and sliding downhill through mud, they absorb beautiful vistas and notice strange landmarks. After they have found what their looking for, they record and whittle down their peregrinations into a sort of treasure map, which becomes their story, their essay, or poem.

The second archetype is that of the sculptor/visionary. In this role, the writer carves out his vision from marble or builds it up from clay. Either way, he deals in raw materials and is characterized by his procedure of appraising his creation, comparing it to the vision in his mind, and taking whatever steps are necessary to bring the two closer together in likeness. Here, consistency and precision are key. Talent is nothing. The quality of the creation is exactly the quality of attention.

The third archetype is that of the mad scientist/mother, who creates new life by connecting disparate, scrupulously collected fragments. Here, the writer fulfills memory’s mute and unconscious desires, life’s yearning for mutation, our drive to embrace the other and unknown. Through synthesis, juxtaposition, and tension, the scientist composes truly powerful, fascinating works that boggle, shock, and awe the pedestrian, going on to live many lives in the dreams and nightmares of men. Generally, the length of gestation is determined by the ambition of the creation.

The fourth archetype is that of the humanitarian/witness. In this role, the writer considers how he his words will affect others and shape his gift to fit well in the palm of the hand. Like a witness in a courtroom, this writer feels obligated to give his truth to the world, but having recognized how often the truth has been ignored and forgotten, he dresses the truth in fancy new clothes.

The fifth and last archetype is that of the child. In this role, the writer seeks authentic expression, amusement, and growth. They destroy and build as a child does, with impunity, unselfconsciously, and they challenge themselves with inane rules, restrictions, anything that can make the act of writing more of a game. The work of a child is often original, and even when lacking in refinement, it is pure.

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