Thursday, January 22, 2015

Motivated to write

I’ve been reading the wrong books. I want to read a lot to inspire and engage me and encourage me to write more. Learn from your peers and all that. I’ve been reading page-turners because those are relaxing and if I have a good page-turner, chances are that I’ll read a book instead of wile away my time in front of the computer. But I’m not writing. No inspiration. No motivation. A couple days ago I picked up a book about a guy who gets in a boat and cruises the US Gulf Coast - from the Texas-Mexico border to the Dry Tortugas. He cruises the entire distance. It is so engaging and so entertaining and so . . . so well written. Reading it makes me want to crumple up my manuscript (theoretically of course since I don’t have it in any kind of hard copy format) and rewrite the whole thing.

This author, Peter Jenkins, writes so naturally and so fluidly. It’s matter-of-fact and funny and fun. It’s well-written but it’s not poetic and rhythmic and pretty. It’s just words on paper, him retelling a story that he lived. That’s the kind of writing I like. I want to like the poetic style of non-fiction (it feels so literary to me, so high brow, surely I should like it!), but when I read something good, something that simply conveys the story, it’s good. Plain and simple good.

A few years ago when I first acknowledged my inclination to write, my mom, ever my champion, sent me a few books about the art of writing. They are old, but timeless. They don’t contain grammar rules or tips on how to reach your ideal audience. They contain snippets and paragraphs and anecdotes of writerly wisdom. The most important piece of advice is a common one: just sit down and write.  Write whatever comes out of your head and onto paper. I type, so when I want to write I sit down and type whatever words flow from my head and through my hands. Write plainly. Write clearly. Write without thought to style or prose. Tell your story in simple words. Don’t try to entertain, don’t try to be funny. Don't try, just write. (Is this "Nike for Writers?")

That is hard advice to put into practice. I’m a bit of a (read: major) perfectionist when it comes to grammar and sentence structure and overall theme and content of a piece. I like love (let’s be honest here) outlines and lists. It is very hard for me to type and type and type without re-reading each sentence the second after I type a period. Don't even get me started on fact-checking and substantiating my claims. But words don’t flow when you’re constantly analyzing them and thinking about your audience. Words don’t flow when you’re trying  to achieve an objective, be it humor, rhythm, fact, or style. In my writer's heart, I believe that style is innate. If you write enough, your own style will develop. And your own style is good.

I self-critique a lot. A lot. I have little idiosyncrasies in my writing that I don’t like. I write too many lists. I have my own set of comma rules (Carbonetti's comma rules, to be precise. Like an inside joke, you have to have been there. 10th grade English class.) and I put too much emphasis on transition words. I sacrifice getting words down on paper because I spend too much time worrying about nit-picking my own work instead of just writing.

My cure? It’s back to that old adage: write, and write a lot. Every day. Exercise the creative muscle. I’m excited to start a new project. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure that it will come to me through my daily writing, my daily exercise. And, maybe, just maybe, if I get used to writing every single day, I’ll stop reading my writing as I write. I’ll get so used to writing that I’ll just write. The words will flow and it will be easy. Because when it’s good (at least when I think so), it’s good. The writing is easy and fun and the words flow. They really do. When I overthink, that’s when it gets clunky. So here’s to more flow and less clunk!


  1. i love this year's challenge and your plan. i'm excited to see what this year holds...and what great story flows out of your daily writing : )

  2. It's hard to believe I find someone who knows the Carbonetti coma rules, he was the best English teacher I ever had, and wish I still remebered the rules.