Worse at the Craft

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Worse at the Craft
image by Christina Xu
https://www.flickr.com/photos/crimsonninjagirl/

Is it possible to get worse at the craft of writing?

It is said, quite often in fact, that a person can improve at whatever he or she does by practice. This means doing whatever it is repeated day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

There was a time when I sincerely believed in this. When I was an elementary school child, I took piano lessons. I practiced every day for thirty minutes. I did get more proficient at it to the point where the nervousness of the recital was minimal. In upper elementary school going all through junior high school and senior high school, I spent hours learning how to play the flute. Not only did the anxiety of performing in front of others become infinitesimal, I also entered into local and state contests, winning a blue ribbon in various categories.

I’ve written more in the past decade than I have all those years before since grade school. Yet, when I read what I’ve written in these past ten years, my conclusion is I’ve regressed.

How can this be?

It could be I need a refresher course in the basic rules of English. My style is okay but not what I would consider terrific, by any means. I break the rules as I see fit, which may not be the best way to write. True, I read about how it’s okay to do away with some of the rules for the sake of the story but maybe I’ve gone too far. After all, the rules were created for a purpose. Moreover, I could take a course for free. There are several websites offering free basic grammar classes, yet I’ve chosen to ignore them.

It could be I’ve become so accustomed to writing like I speak. My speech is full of jargon and clichés. Of course, this means my writing is full of this junk too. So many people I have contact with are writers and 95% of that contact is through the internet, which means my language is also tarnished with terms that aren’t usually read in the books I prefer to read and write. Yet, looking at my WiP, I readily see these terms that, I’m quite sure, would turn the stomachs of readers. The people I converse with by phone or in person are usually family. I don’t adjust my speech for them.

Yes, I do believe a person can become worse at the craft of writing. The dissatisfaction of my efforts is enormous these days. The impediment my laziness has caused is abominable.

My solution is to go ahead with a free writing course. I’ve signed up to take a course at openlearning entitled Scribble: Writing for New Writers. It’s self-paced so it doesn’t interfere with anything. I know some of the lessons will be repetitive for me, so probably a little tedious. Still, I’m hoping to unlearn bad habits I’ve gotten into during these years.

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How would you judge your writing skills these days?

To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone – just plain going at it, in pain and delight. To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again, and once more, and over and over….
John Hersey [from THE BRAINSTORM GALLERY]

 

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Secretive Writing

Secretive Writing
Image provided by ohorella
https://www.flickr.com/photos/islandsoft/

Are you one of those writers who can write almost any place? You find it easy to get your muse going in a coffee shop, at the mall, or while riding the bus? I’m jealous. I’d be so distracted by my irrational suspicions of someone looking over my shoulder.

I didn’t have this qualm when I was younger. During my school years, I usually sat in the first row not giving any thought to what the kid behind me was doing. When I was in my twenties, there were occasions where I’d plop my butt down at McDonald’s with a Coke and write for an hour or two in a personal journal, never thinking someone might see what I’m writing.

Now I find it hard to write when my husband is at home, even if he’s in a different room. Where did all of this covertness come from? Have I gotten more insecure in my old age? Or could it be I’ve gotten more stubborn about what I want–quiet? Or is it that I can’t get to that space where I’m ultimately comfortable writing? In truth, I think it’s a little of all.

It used to be my physical challenges were just that, challenges. As the years have gone by, these struggles have gotten a bit more severe making me apprehensive in more situations. Sure, there’s usually a kind person about whose willing to help me out, but I’m an independent soul, always have been. Me asking for help is like you asking someone to break your arm are for you. The thought of not being self-efficient is a pill I’m having problems swallowing. So instead of taking the risk of needing help at the local McDonald’s or coffee shop, I do all my writing at home where I know I can maneuver under my own power without assistance.

Well, that explains a little bit, but still, this need for solitude still gnaws at me.

I want my writing to be my own. I don’t want suggestions about what my story should be about. This isn’t to say I don’t want selected people to tell me where they think I’m flubbing up, although, as I stated, these people are ones I select. They’re special to me because I respect and trust their knowledge, opinions, and intentions. So far, there are only two people I feel this way about. If I ever get past a second draft, I’ll be calling on these two for critiques. Until then I’m held fast in keeping my “baby” with me.

Does this say I’m bullheaded? Probably. I come by it naturally.

My writing space is far from ideal. Sometimes I get so irked at this cramped corner in the computer room that I go browsing through the pages of the HGTV site to dream about my perfect writing space. Of course, HGTV doesn’t have what I really want. That look is only in my head. Anyway, what I have is barely sufficient, giving me feelings of inadequacy as a writer. I know, it shouldn’t make a difference. Tell that to the emotional side of my brain. It isn’t listening to me.

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And maybe that’s what it all boils down to. I’m secretive because I don’t think too much of myself as a writer. Oh sure, some of you will say I’m doing just fine with my abilities at the craft. I’d love to agree with you but when I look at what I write… It just doesn’t cut it.

Because I’m so stubborn, though, I’ll continue to pound on the keys. My preoccupation with it won’t allow me to do any less.

One of these days I’ll break through the wool of my cowardice and show what I work on so diligently.

“You have to stop and freeze the moment,” he told me I had told her. “You have to make yourself remember by repeating it in your head over and over. You have to write to preserve your sanity.” ― Jenny Hubbard, Paper Covers Rock

 

In the Mood

In the Mood
Image provided by Universal Pops
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No, I’m not discussing the song, “In the Mood for Love”. What I want to explore is what gets us in the mood to write. This can be a vast subject seeing that depending who you are and what you like can vary beyond a person’s imagination. I thought it would be good to start with the basics though.

Maybe the best way to handle this topic is for me to tell you what works for me and, hopefully, you will tell me your strategies in the comment section.

Random or Special Places

I guess I need the special place. The smallest bedroom in my house is converted into “the computer room”. Although I’d like to write in other rooms like the kitchen or living room, when I do that, I feel my surroundings are strange and distracting.

I bought a laptop just for that purpose, switching rooms once in a while. So far, the only other room that doesn’t disconcert me is the back bedroom. Maybe it’s because it’s cooler in there, which must be good for the laptop. Right?

Noisy or Quiet Surrounding

Kristi faithfully visits a coffee shop in Texas to do her writing. She takes her laptop and tries to snatch the same table every time. Somehow all the commotion with people talking works as white noise for her.

I know other writers who have music going while they write. They tell me they need it to set the mood or for the rhythm of their writing. I understand what they’re saying, but it won’t work for me.

I wouldn’t get any writing done if I tries to pound on the keys in a public place or with music blasting. Even a library gets me feeling a little daunted when it comes to writing, yet it sure is quiet there. The library intimidation could be that I’ve not spent a lot of time in one since the turn of the century. I use the resources on the internet now. Maybe I just need to reintroduce myself to the building.

Until that time comes, I need utter silence in my environment while I try to weave a tale. This can be troublesome at times. My husband loves noise. This wouldn’t be such a grave issue except “the computer room” doesn’t have a door. I’m not sure that would do much good anyway though because one of my cats, Marble, would continuously scratch at the door until it was opened. Whenever my husband goes someplace without me and I know he’ll be gone for more that a half hour, I try to use as much of that time for writing.

What Items are in Reach?

Jacqui has two monitors for her computer. She also has a personal library of books she uses when she writes. Her desk is so clean and tidy. Judging from the pictures I’ve seen, she’s well organized.

My collection of items to use while writing is minuscule compared to Jacqui’s arrangement. I have a traveling mug that will hold three regular mugs of coffee. There’s no way that sucker is tipping over either because it’s got a weight in the bottom of it. I have yet to have liquid all over the keyboard. I have a small bin to the right of the monitor that stores my books about writing. The plastic tray that sits in front of the bin holds Advil, post-note pads, a dinky spiral, and a flashlight. I keep my pens in a McDonald’s Happy Meal glass.

Weather

The weather, for the most part doesn’t seem to affect my desire to write one way or the other. I’ve known writers that have a hard time during the glorious days of summer or can’t seem to find that groove in the winter. Sometimes, but not often, the wind will play havoc with my ability to write. I wish it would have the opposite effect on me.

Without these things, I have a hard time getting in the mood to write. Sometimes I wonder why I even bothered getting the laptop when I rarely use it. Yes, I know, I should get more adventurous.

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Now, even with all this said, I know some writers wait until they’re in the mood to write. I have a hard time understanding this logic. You could be waiting for years for that mood to hit you just right. Some of the best writing I’ve done has been when I’ve had to insist that I get my butt in the seat and just start hammering in the keys.

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What gets you in the mood to write?

“There are times when I think that the ideal library is composed solely of reference books. They are like understanding friends—always ready to meet your mood, always ready to change the subject when you have had enough of this or that.” ― J. Donald Adams

 

What Do I Want?

Image provided by Mike Carroll https://www.flickr.com/photos/druidlabs/
Image provided by Mike Carroll
https://www.flickr.com/photos/druidlabs/

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S.. Although I could’ve done the usual post for this occasion, telling you what I’m thankful for, I don’t feel comfortable spouting off about such things so dear to me. I know, weird, but that’s just me. Instead, I’m giving you a post telling you about a “want” I have.

I’m kind of in a lull in my writing right now. I’m not moving forward, and, instead, reworking what I have so far. Yes, I know. Numerous writers out there are going to be saying I should get that first draft done before altering anything. However, the tense I was using was holding me back, making it painfully difficult for me to find the right words to use in so many of the sentences. Anyway, I’m reworking my project and am feeling satisfied with what I’m accomplishing.

I’m close to done with this rewriting phase and will be, once again, making the journey into the unknown of the story. While musing over what I’ll soon be doing and what I’ve done thus far, I’ve asked myself what I want from this whole experience of writing a story.

Sure, it would be marvelous to have a book published with my name showing as the author. My family and friends would be so proud. For that matter, I would be too. Still, I honestly can’t say this is first on my list of seen goals.

When I think of publishing, I think of fame, even though it might be scant. I’ve never been one to jump into the limelight. I’ve been on stage a few times playing a flute. I can’t say I get stage fright, but my anxiety level certainly does do some soaring. I feel this same tug at me when I think of my name placed on a book as the author. I can’t say it’s a pleasant feeling.

After this story is considered done, I would like to write another, and maybe another one after that, maybe more. I do enjoy that rush I get when the words are flowing out of me onto the screen. To have this feeling time after time for many years sounds glorious to me. It is one of my goals, but I can’t say it’s foremost because I experience it now periodically. How can it really be a goal if you already have experienced it?

I think what I want is for one person, one reader, to read my book and be able to say he or she [probably she though] thoroughly got enthralled in the story. It’s this that would make me believe that the journey has been a total success. And I could re-experience this if I find someone who feels this each time I finish a book.

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I hope your day is all it should be. Those of you going Christmas shopping tomorrow, I wish you complete safety throughout your day.

Also, my newsletter will be out tomorrow. If you haven’t subscribed, please consider it. The link is as the top of the sidebar on this page.

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” ― Albert Einstein

 

Assessing Time

Assessing Time
Image provided by skyler817
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sky817/

Back when I was in high school writing short [very short] stories and poems in a spiral notebook while sitting on my bed Indian style, I wrote until I had nothing more to say or until I heard my mom yell for help in fixing the evening meal. I didn’t give one inkling of thought to how many minutes equaled a “good session of writing”.

Most of my poems were free verse with three parts to them. Sometimes I’d write at feverish speed as if I might forget the complete thought before I got it all down. There were instances when this only took five minutes at the most, and then I was done. I’d open the bedroom door and go spend time watching TV with my brother or go offer a hand in the kitchen.

Other times, I’d painfully struggle to get those poems out of me. I’d have to write the first stanza, stare out the window for I don’t know how long, and try for the next one. Those poems could take me days to write.

The short stories were done much the same way, though I always had some idea of where I was going with them. I knew where I wanted to start and end.

No place during those years did I worry about what constituted a “good writing session”. I just wrote. When did all of this change?

Life got busy and complicated until I was in my late forties. At that time, I decided to take a correspondence course through Writer’s Digest. The class was based on the assumption that I knew grammar up past the level of high school, which I did. It was designed to get the creative juices flowing and teach me how to submit my work.

Within all those pages and lessons, there wasn’t one indication, tip, or hint about how long a “good writing session” should be. I can only surmise that I should write until I was done for that day, that morning, that afternoon, or whatever.

It was in 2013 that I felt the urge to get serious about writing again and hopefully stick with it for more that three or four years. I subscribed to a hoard of blogs owned by writers in the hopes of learning the finer points of the craft/art.

Most of the blogs I followed talked about the writing process, writer’s block, and gave prompts and exercises. A little over a year ago though, I’ve seen a shift in a few of these blogs. I’m not sure I agree with the switch. I’ve come to know these bloggers and think of them as reliable for information, yet I’m reading something, not every time of course, about what establishes a “good writing session”.

Although good habits are bound to make life easier in many ways, when it comes to most activity requiring creativity, some of these habits can be too restrictive, making it almost, if not completely, impossible for a person to be imaginative or resourceful.

I tried taking the advice I was reading, but found myself getting stuck as if I was thrown into a bin of glue. I’d sit myself down at the time I had deemed to start my session and begin to write. Within twenty minutes at the most, I’d find my muse refusing to cooperate and flying off into space. The damn thing wouldn’t come back until the following day, and that was only if I was lucky.

Should writers have a strict schedule? Maybe some need it. Maybe some were raised with rigorous rules set down by their parents and have kept up the habit. However, I don’t see how this should apply to every writer. Many writers are the free spirit type. They may not start a project until three in the morning, work frantically for a half hour, and go to bed and sleep until noon. This does not mean they’re lazy. It means they have an unconventional life style.

I consider the above example a little extreme, but I’m certain some writers work that way. I was brought up with rigid rules: set meal times, set bedtimes, laundry day, meatloaf on Tuesdays, and so forth. I only make meat loaf about four times each year now so I think I’ve moved away from the do-or-die schedule.

Most days I want to write as soon as the house is quiet in the morning. I sleep regular hours when I can sleep so morning is when I have the most brain energy. However, while husband watches sports channels in the evening, I’m known to sit my butt in the chair to pound on the keys furiously for a couple of hours. Still, I don’t have a set number of minutes I gauge.

I write until I feel done.

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How do you feel about writing sessions?

“Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” ― Red Haircrow