An Acrostic on Craft

by Barbara Cary

Editor’s note: An essay on some issue of prose or poetry craft usually appears in this column. For this issue, as a tribute to the style and substance of Tommy Hays’ unique approach to the craft of writing, novelist Barbara Cary has created what follows.

T is for two. If he underlines your sentence once, it’s okay. No worries. Not underlined at all? Not so good. Better rewrite or just omit.

If he underlines it two times, he liked it—maybe just a little—but this is Tommy we’re talking about, so be happy!

O is for over. If there’s a sixteen-page limit, don’t go over it. Under is fine; over is not appreciated.

And by the way, number your damn pages!

M is for the M in standard GraMmar. Because you can pretty much ignore it. He’s a New Fiction sort of guy.

You want to write sentence fragments standing as sentences? No problem?
You want to write in the present tense and the second person or in some other tense or point of view that doesn’t even have a name? Go ahead.

But make sure a new speaker’s dialogue is always indented!

M is also for Mystery. Because no matter how many wonderful passages you read and discuss in class, or how many books we read on writing by smart people, or how much good advice he gives you, the whole thing remains a mystery.

“You just have to keep writing,” he says.

Y is for y’all. As in what he says the very first class:

“I don’t know why y’all want to do this. It’s really hard work, and you’re never going to make any money.” Of course, you find out soon enough that he was telling you the unvarnished truth. He warned you. But know that you’ll be supported and encouraged in Tommy’s class. He’s got your back on this one.

Dr. Barbara Cary is a retired professor of education who grew up and attended college in the South. Her first creative writing experience occurred two years ago when a friend talked her into enrolling in a class in the Great Smokies Writing Program. The class was taught by Tommy Hays. She loved his course, and the two subsequent ones she joined, as well as the whole enterprise of writing in an atmosphere with an enthusiastic group of writers who were guided by an inspiring and encouraging teacher.