Saturday, February 20, 2010

Simple Writing Plan

If you plan your writing one day in advance, it is much easier. Here's how it works.

On the day before, choose your theme for the next day. Write down the main idea and put it in your pocket. Look at it several times, especially just as you get into bed at night. Look at it the next morning until whatever your writing time is scheduled.

It is surprising how much the unconscious will produce if given time. Often we will be amazed at how creative it gets.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Writing Is the Fun Part

Writing, (rewriting and editing) is the fun part. Publishing and marketing is the other part. A necessary party if it is to be read.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Three Paragraphs Daily

Write three paragraphs a day.
Anyone can do that much.
Or merely a hundred-fifty words daily.
In time the pages will stack up
and begin adding up to something.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Written or Published?

On one hand:

Do you want to write, or to be published?
Which is your interest, to be a writer or to be an author?

Lamott raises this question to say that most who think they want to be writers don’t have that much interest in writing; they just want to be published authors.

On the other hand:

The two are not exclusive.

I write, primarily, because I have ideas that I want to present to as large a public as possible. I am a teacher. Thus, I write to publish–to public–and to make my ideas available to the public. There are many ways to do this. A blog is one.

On the other hand, I enjoy writing, both in longhand--whether with pencil or pen--and on a keyboard. I enjoy crafting words, framing ideas, ideas that live in my mind, but are without definition until I give them defined form in writing. I do this apart from any intention to publish.

I write for myself to clarify my own thought, to find out what I am thinking, and to test its validity.

Long years ago I had a professor, an old man who had published many books and articles. When I asked him about writing, he replied, “I don’t like to write. I like to have written.” I am not his near kinsman. I like to write.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Re-vision and Re-Writing

Several years ago, before the blog as we know it was born, I was subscribed to an enormous and extravagantly rich blog-like series of postings by a UCLA professor with what seemed to me, the unlikely name of Phil Agre (“filigree?” Delicate, twisted, convoluted ornamentation). He covered in depth an incredibly broad range of subject matter. He is one of those men so intelligent and learned, who seem to exist on a different plain. Occasionally he set his thoughts down in writing.

We don’t know what we have written, Agre claims, until we have heard it read by someone else. We should read, aloud, our own writing. That is the best way to get a sense of the rhythm of our language; in the process, we catch many typos; we become aware that this should be deleted, or that should be added; and, we get a feel for how well it might communicate.

But, Agre notes, we don’t know what we have written until we hear it read by someone else. Our writing and speaking voices are so intimately linked in our mind that we can’t hear, objectively, our own writing. When we hear another read it, we really catch those benefits mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Listening to someone else read our words commonly evokes complaints from us. No, we say, you are not reading it as it should be read; no, that is not how I mean it, and in many other ways we are annoyed by their misrepresentation of what we believe we have written. But we are wrong. We are not writing for ourselves, we are writing for an unseen and unknown public readership. We cannot follow our published work and explain it to each reader. It must speak for itself.

When someone else reads our work aloud to us, we now know, Agre concludes, what we actually have said. If they didn’t get it right, they have done us a great favor, for now we know what revision is needed.

It was John Kenneth Galbraith, if my memory hasn’t failed me, who said it is not enough to write so we can be understood. We must write so that we cannot possibly be misunderstood.

Among the best writers it is common knowledge that all good writing is rewriting, but no one has said it more cogently than Galbraith (and I know he said this). He said he was often amused by those who praised the spontaneity with which he wrote; he called it, “that note of spontaneity that creeps into my work after about the fifth rewrite.”

Our first draft should be written spontaneously, with little consideration of how it will read or sound. Anne Lamott, the wacky and completely uninhibited author of Bird by Bird, directs us to write “shitty first drafts.” The object is to get the core story, idea, or essay down in words. Only after the free and spontaneous “down-draft” has been written, does the real writing begin. Now we have material to edit, rewrite, edit and rewrite, right up to the last minute when it moves out of our control. We are ready now to be read by the public.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

If Not Now, When?

Someone has said, “A writer is someone who writes.” Without clarification, this is a meaningless tautological statement, as meaningless as, “a singer is someone who sings,” or “a reader is someone who reads.” In order to qualify, how often must I write, sing, read? Most of us do these things regularly. In at least a minimalist sense, we are writers, if only check writers, singers, if only in the shower or car, and readers, if only billboards or the funny papers.

How frequently must we write, and how many words or pages must we produce before we have the right to call ourselves writers? Another of those meaningless/meaningful definitions disturbed my conscience recently: “A writer is someone who has written today.” And I know what they mean by “has written.”

I’ve been a “wannabe” writer for longer than I can remember, but have had my own reasons/excuses for writing only sporadically (once I committed myself in August to write 50,000 words by the end of the year, and did it). How long, for example, has it been since my last post to this blog? I’ve been retired for an entire year and have written little. I spotted, “a writer is someone who has written today,” then saw that old, but universally applicable slogan, “If not now, when,” and realized I had to change–that day.

Since retirement I’ve had dozens, literally, of tasks tugging at my conscience and desires. Which to do? Which to do right now? Without a plan, I’ve lived the past year catch-as-catch-can. That is, amorphously, chaotically, and thus, with a constant sense of frustration. That is, until I read the slogans mentioned in the previous paragraph. Suddenly I realized that “if not now,” meant, “never,” and within a few hours a “now” schedule struck my mind.

I had been a university professor for thirty-some years, tied to a schedule of twelve hours a week (for most of those years it was fifteen) in the classroom. It occurred to me that if I were to write on that same schedule, if I wrote twelve hours every week, I could make real progress. So, a couple of weeks ago I adopted the same schedule as our local university.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I will write from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00. Tuesday and Thursday, 8:00-11:00. All other time remains open for doing the things that married love does, and for taking care of the quotidian. If the opportunity arises (as it has this afternoon) I can write any other time, but anything besides the scheduled hours is optional. I sit me down in front of Word Perfect and allow myself nothing but either to write or sit before a blank screen. I don’t pull up the internet. I write or else am stuck with that blank screen until 11:00.

This schedule will apply during the dates of the fall and spring semester schedule. In the summer, I will do two four-week summer terms, with at least a week between Spring and Summer I, between summer terms, and between the end of the last summer term and the beginning of the fall semester. When Howard Payne University takes vacation or other days off, so will I. I’ve lived this schedule so long it is part of me. I can do this.

This scheduled writing time will be as inviolable as was scheduled class time. If I miss because of illness or other emergency reasons, or if for any reason am late, I cannot claim that time later in the day. When I was teaching and missed any part of class time, it was gone forever; it couldn’t be made up later in the day.


Now, my days are structured. And it works, for two weeks it has been working incredibly well: I am producing an average of more than a thousand words daily. They start as soon as I sit, and don’t stop until 11:00. I’ve built up such a reservoir across the years that it flows as easily and steadily as when the plug is pulled out of a full tub of water. I think it is going to take a long time to empty.

If I finish a piece earlier, I edit until 11:00. If I have no morning time for editing, I do that catch-as-catch-can later in the day.

On one hand, I’m writing this to celebrate my new world in print. On the other hand, I’m posting it to place these possibilities and options before you.

A writer is someone who has written today.
If not now, when?
If not now, it might wind up (or down) being never.
Goin’ to don’t pick no cotton.

Have you written today?