Tagged editing

Inspired on a drive

It’s where all my big thoughts happen. The car. For some, it’s the shower. For others, it’s right before sleep. Either way, it’s always inconvenient. Am I right? Tonight, as I drive, my brain fills up like a birthday balloon. Don’t worry. I’m being safe. Talk-to-text helps.

A former professor, dear friend and [now] collegue—what an honor!—Lori Jakiela asked me to talk to

her blogging class about my job. During my full-mouthed spiel, I realized how incredible we are. Writers. Or: people who spend their time gushing, thinking about what people need/want/wish for. I know. Crazy to articulate, but just… some of the most incredible creatures I know are writers. Why? Because they have a greater understanding of things: the subtleties of culture, the depth of our interactions, colors and light and all the while, a meticulous eye on themselves.

Writers take big gulps of the world and hiccup beauty. Simply put. And seeing these young ones so open and excited about writing—well, that’s not something I get from my Comp gig. Most of my students are finding ways to dodge my two-and-a-half-hour night class. It’s obligatory, a required course, and so one might expect that they’d run flailing in the other direction.

But what is it about the aspiring that is so damn… inspiring? I’m by no means an expert; I mean, I’ve got oodles of experience now, writing and editing. But I never feel “complete.” Is that a writer thing? Maybe it’s like when I write the best poem in the whole-wide world, and then the next day, I read it again only to find it might be the worst poem in the world. Ha! It’s frustrating. To never be all-the-way good. But that’s why we keep going, right? It’s become some sort of a catalyst.

But that’s just it. You can never be too good at writing. Hell, you can never be too good at anything when it comes down to it. But since I was going on about lists and how to simplify for the reader, catch their attention, I thought I’d make one of my own.

Orwell gave me some of the greatest advice, and so this list is a mash-up of that and my own experience. While all of these tips aren’t relevant to every type of writing, I compiled a more encompassing list—one that I feel covers the basics, you know? I hope you enjoy! [And if you have any to add, leave me some words!]

TIPS FROM A SOMEWHAT SUCCESSFUL WRITER:

  1. Read. This is something I can say and say and say, have had profs say and say and say, and still… one must discover for his or herself—reading will inspire. But moreover, reading will help you to understand your own thoughts, style, voice more aptly. Good books or bad books, they will help. So just do it. Don’t argue!
  2. Find your big league. This kind of  goes along with the last one. Find the writer(s) that makes the hairs on your arm stand up. For me, Margaret Atwood embodies the very style that I’d hope to someday achieve; even her prose is poetic. Sometimes I carry her around with me in my pack for inspiration.
  3. Invent your own language. Don’t re-run tired words and phrases, those you hear every day. Make it new. Need a metaphor? An analogy? An image? Make up your own. This is an especially great way to introduce humor, but it isn’t necessary to be funny. Fresh words. Fresh thoughts. Uniqueness is key.
  4. Short & sweet. Don’t we all love to show off a little? Some of us have great honkin’ vocabularies, where we make sport of words like “loquacious” or “parsimonious“; no matter how seamless, words like these are off-putting to the average reader—use as few of them as possible. Keep things succinct, in general. Sentences, paragraphs, all of it. The world is impatient, but more than that—it will make you use more powerful words and constructions.
  5. Revisit aloud. Self-editing isn’t easy. My advice? Don’t just re-read your work, but read it OUT LOUD. That’s it. Open your mouth, say the words… does it sound right? Hide in a closet or a bathroom if you have to [but watch for that dastardly echo!] It also helps to give yourself a day or two in-between, an intermission. Like I told Jakiela’s class: imagine that mindset you have when you invite someone to your house for the first time. Make that an important “someone.” You know that feeling when they walk in for the first time and you sort of envision your home as he or she is seeing it, for the first time. Suddenly, every little spot on the carpet and every book covered in dust stands out like it’s been spotlighted. Get there.
  6. What you see is what you get. Let’s face it—the public has turned into a lusty-eyed pack of big cats, hungry for aesthetically pleasing visuals. It’s like we’ve suddenly snapped back to that age where we more apt to flip through a picture book than read. Look at how violently Pinterest has taken off! No one has to get TOO involved. Just play with pictures! The lesson in this: clean up your blogs; clean up your webpages; clean up your form on the page. People are more likely to read something that LOOKS good. Sad, but true. Inserting funny pictures helps. Ha!
  7. Stop. Drop. & Write. This little nugget is more like lifestyle advice. As I was saying above, inspiration isn’t always convenient. Because of this, I find myself jotting things down in parking lots, at stop signs and in coffeeshop queues. Keep paper and a pen handy at all times—stash some in your car if you have to—but don’t shut that thing up inside you that is urging you to expel. Even if it means being late to your friend’s wedding. [Oops!]
I’m going to end there. I could go on and on, but… [:
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