So You Want to Be a Writer

become a writer

This is an essay by Helen Woodward.

The moment you hint at wanting to be a writer, people will tell you that you write fantastic letters and that you should write a book!

Now there’s a thought. How many pages are in a book? Five to six hundred, give or take a couple. Do you write humorous or serious stuff? Maybe a “how to” pocket-sized piece of wonder or just a bloody good yarn.

After all, if you’re going to write with the idea of strangers reading your work, then it has to either teach them something, make them laugh, cry or put them into shock with revelations you think nobody has ever thought of since the first word was chipped into a stone.

Just how do you get started?

Have a look at Henry Schoenheimer’s “Expressive English”: “A great American humorous writer, Stephen Leacock, was once asked whether writing was a difficult art. ‘Oh, no, he replied, writing isn’t difficult at all. You just take a pen and put down whatever occurs to you, of course,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘the occurring, now that can be difficult.” 

After much deliberation, you put something down on paper and you think, “That’s not bad. I might run that past someone.” Family and friends gush all over you expressing how wonderful you are and, even if your work is appalling, you are heavily encouraged to write a novel. And because of that encouragement you actually think this is a possibility.

You begin work without delay on The Novel, the theme of which you feel has to be dramatic and complicated. Maybe a psychopathic degenerate with no morals can be at the core of your gruesome tale. You throw in the odd line of dialogue so people will be under the impression that you know what you are doing and before you can say, “oops dropped my pen” you’ve written ninety pages of surreal narrative, which you believe will knock people’s socks off.

With a sudden lack of genius, your brain won’t function, not another gory thought comes to your overworked mind. You decide to have a break for a few days; six months later all thoughts of The Novel are forgotten.

The next time you feel the urge to be creative you try your hand at poetry. Little rhyming ditties roll forth on the page and you truly believe you have found your forte in the wonderful world of writing. Six months later, with several large drawers full of poems that nobody wants and your head turning all your thoughts into a rhythmic pattern of witticisms, a straight jacket is the obvious next step.

You need an idea or at least a reader-grabbing first line. In “Working With Words,” E.A. Southwell writes, “Just as a film director with his camera-men can be all powerful, making us see what he sees, so you, when you pick up your pen may take shots for your reader to see; but first you must find something that you really like looking at. For instance, on a blazing midsummer day a cool looking spot is a welcome sight.”

You realize that if ever passion and talent are to be turned into a marketable product then immediate assistance is vital. Learning becomes important and necessary. It’s time to do a course. You are put to the test – and how! You find that your skills are not as good as you first imagined, and you become aware of your inept knowledge of the subject and the importance of getting it right.

“Thirty-nine rewrites are several more than most writers will want or be fully able to attempt, but you should count on revising your work up to half a dozen times before you consider it finished.” – from “How To Get Happily Published”

A solid training regime, although sometimes difficult, opens up many possibilities.

Sweating bullets, you do your utmost to impress, handing in assignments on time all the while thinking, it’s a walk in the park. Until through the correction process you are told that some areas of your grammar skills are incompetent. This causes feelings of inadequacy, and you work harder to meet the tutor’s expectations wondering if they will ever see your brilliance shining through the rubble.

Finally you seem to be doing better and, in fact, you are. Words are being strung together and the sentences are logical. Fiction is a low point for you, however, and once again you trudge down the familiar road of doubt.

The learning process becomes a huge challenge, but you’re in there fighting.

Your latest assignment is returned and you have earned yourself a merit. You are humbled to the core and that low confidence gets a much-needed lift, but mostly you have a strong feeling of hope. Someone did like your work. Someone you don’t know personally. Someone who is not worried about upsetting your delicate ego.

This is exactly what you needed but you also realize there are a lot of cracks in this pavement. So you set about filling them in by tackling them one at a time. The longer you study and do astutely reading of other people’s work, the better your own work becomes.

“You will not get far if you ‘skim’ as many people do, through an article in a newspaper or illustrated periodical. Give it all the attention you can muster; from the first word to the last.” – from “Comprehension and Precis”

In addition to your formal studies, you read all you can about writing and indeed writers. Reference books such as “This Business of Writing” by Raymond Flower become as important to you as your dictionary. You research and plan meticulously gathering useful information. Stockpiling is very necessary.

You discover that fiction comes easier to mind when it is colored here and there with a generous helping of fact. Flower said, “Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ was inspired by his sister’s true-life experience of a lost love, which eventually drove her into mental decline.”

This is the kind of fact that makes the transition to fiction a little easier. When you have written all you can, keep writing and eventually you will see a style emerge that is unmistakably you.

=========

Helen Woodward is an Australian mother of five and has been writing for twenty years. She has a novel in the publishing process and various published articles.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Photosteve

What Does It Mean to Be a Writer – Part Two

writing is hard work

This essay is in two parts and was written by Elizabeth Simons. In case you missed it, here’s part one.

Part Two: Make Room For Writing

Writing is hard work. It’s so hard, I spend hours avoiding it. Sitting in front of a computer screen creates anxiety, so instead of composing words I play mindless games. Simple games to put me into a no-write zone until the Muse arrives.

But she hasn’t been showing up lately.

It’s all about time management, isn’t it? Some call it rhythm and settle into a routine. Some see it as rigidity and chafe against the perceived reins. It’s a mixed bag.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My love for writing began when I started a journal. Someone gave me a diary when I was 11 years old. I didn’t write every day, but often enough to record my impressions of life as an introspective fifth-grader. The entries were initially cautious. I was either unable to write about more complex feelings, or I was guarded about revealing emotions I didn’t know how to handle.

There wasn’t a lot of time to write, so the entries were brief. Much of my time was taken up with endless household chores. There was school and homework and housework.

I was a dreamy child with unreasonable expectations. The fact that I had many interests and a very short attention span meant that even when I did have personal time, I didn’t know what to do with it. If I couldn’t finish a project in one sitting, I abandoned it. Or did a poor job because I’d lost interest long before it was finished. I had the attention span of a gnat.

While the first entries in my diary were brief, they became longer as I neared puberty. One-entry-per-day diaries were replaced by black-and-white composition books. I wrote page after introspective page through high school and college. I wrote feverishly when I was depressed, which was often, or euphoric, which was brief and short-lived but no less intense.

I wrote poetry as well. It was my outlet for expressing love, hate, fear, pain, sorrow, addiction and revenge. I’d grab a notebook and pen and spend hours searching for the perfect words, rhymes and rhythms that reflected the powerful emotions I was experiencing.

I loved these moments of inspiration, these interruptions from daily life. They were my power in a world in which I often felt powerless.

To this day I find it very hard to undertake any task that can’t be completed either in one sitting or by devoting several days of undivided attention to it. Not surprisingly, this single-mindedness results in the neglect of daily chores.

Which then sets me up for guilt. Old habits die hard.

Rhythm is not my strong suit. I’m envious of people who can dedicate several hours to a project, then switch to something else, then after an hour go on to another task, then take up the effort again the next day without losing momentum. I struggle with bringing my attention back from its dream-like wandering. Projects that begin with so much hope and enthusiasm often get orphaned.

I resent routine, even when I’ve created it. I don’t like having to do repetitive things, things like brushing my teeth or making my bed or cooking a meal or working out. I remember a professor in college who told the class he jogged daily for exercise. He said he had been doing it for more than twenty years. My admiration turned to astonishment, however, when he announced he hated every minute of it. Why did he do it if he hated it? Why not find another form of exercise?

Is it possible to love what you choose? More to the point, is it possible to choose to love something you have to do, anyway?

I find the idea of writing feels more satisfying than actual writing. Ideas rattle around in my head, and they are especially exciting when I’m nowhere near a computer. Scenarios play themselves out like a movie reel while I’m doing the dishes or sweeping the floor or driving. Potential is more exciting than reality.  I love the warm glow, the ironic certainty of thoughts that have yet to be defined.

I tell myself I’ll remember these flights of fancy and write them down shortly. But I don’t. When I finally sit down to write, these thoughts, ever ephemeral, degenerate into incoherence. I might capture one fleeting thought while the others wither in the telling.

The bottom line is that I need to write in order to feel whole. I need to write even though I struggle with time that seems to accelerate with each passing year, crushing the day’s hours into infinitesimal increments. I need to write even though the thoughts I put down are far less noble than they appear at first blush. I need to write even though I don’t know who will be reading my words. I need to write because only I can say what I have to say.

At this point I’d like to reveal that I have discovered the secret to time management and am churning out hundreds of words each day, but the truth is that I still struggle with a short attention span. Some days I might write 1,000 words. Some days I don’t write at all.

What I can say is this: I just try to show up. I don’t wait for the Muse to come calling.

Some hours, some days, some weeks are better than others. I continue to wrestle with the inexplicable urge to run from that which I love, but I dedicate myself to becoming more awake each day. Each day I struggle so that my ordinary words may one day be extraordinary.

I may not write the way you write. I may not be consistent with my time in a predictable rhythm, but in the long run I do write regularly. I’ve learned to accept my limitations, and I’ve even relinquished guilt for not being perfect.

I may not be a prolific writer, but I am a writer.

==========

Elizabeth Simons is a writer who lives in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. She is the author of “Dancing With Words,” a creative writing course she wrote for the University of Missouri’s online curriculum for advanced middle school students. She also edits manuscripts for publication at Prosecraft. You can see samples of her writing at Words By Heart. Elizabeth is currently making peace with her muse and is working on her novel “To Die For.”

Photo: Some rights reserved by Desi.

On Teaching and Self-Worth

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

A post inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography

It is no surprise that Frank Lloyd Wright had teachers in his family. A great teacher impacts generations. My grandmother had that talent while she lived. I have had more than fifty grown adults approach me in my lifetime and describe how she profoundly affected their lives by being their teacher. Uniformly though, the impact came by not only what she taught, but how seriously she took her responsibility to the betterment of her students’ lives. Reading about Frank Lloyd Wright reminds me of her impact.

A true teacher leads one to knowledge more than anything, even if that is through inspiration. For Wright, nature often served as a teacher, and experience serves to carry out the education. For Wright work was education.

For an architect during the Great Depression there were often no paying clients looking to build. Wright tested his ideas by creating a school, which was really more akin to a modern-day apprenticeship program.

The students worked at building and planning and became a self-sufficient entity. They grew their own food and mended their own clothes. Wright’s idea was that to design a kitchen one had to know how to work in one. He took this to the extreme by having his students work in every area he could imagine. Under the motto “do something while resting,” the school grew to stand for the idea that there is no substitute for getting right into the mix and working.

Where did Wright get the idea that this type of education would work? During the summer he spent time at his uncle’s farm doing the labor necessary to keep animals and humans in good health. Wright developed as a child under the idea that “work is an adventure that makes strong men and finishes weak ones.” For Wright, work was truly educational. But, I think he got something out of his teaching, too. Something that helped get him through the Great Depression. Teaching others boosts our own self-worth.

Sometimes hard work forced upon us is life changing. Hard work can provide the capacity to endure and create as an immediate result.  The greatest value, however, may come in the realization that the process of learning to work provides self-worth. You can take the next step and multiply the effect if you teach someone else the same process. I think the same holds true with reading, which is why we have such a responsibility to share our reading experiences with others.

Photo: Some rights reserved by mach3