Thursday, July 20, 2017

How I Write

            A lot of people have asked me how I write my blog. Actually, that’s an alternative fact – nobody has ever asked. But it’s my blog, so . . ..

            My approach to writing can be summarized thus: Ready, Fire, Aim. I never know where I am going to end up, let alone how I will get there.


            “Ready” for me involves a cup of coffee, my laptop, and some form of solitude. Some mornings I get up ahead of Kim, and when that happens, I write. I’ll write (like now) when she is napping. I would write when sitting on the toilet, but that would cut into my reading time.

            Part of my getting ready is knowing how many days I have before Thursday, my self-imposed and totally arbitrary deadline. The pressure to meet that deadline starts early – I’m drafting this on a Friday, just after publication. Now that I am retired, with no job to go to, I need the discipline. Besides, knowing when Thursday will come gives my week a structure, much the way weekends used to do when I was working.


            “Fire” means just start writing. In the one creative writing course I ever took, the professor, Steve Dunning, had us do what he called “fast-writes,” where the only rule was that you had to write non-stop, even if it meant writing the same word over and over. It’s a lot like free-association, and I recommend it.

            I wish I’d understand the value of “Fire” when I was in college, especially during English 1-2, where my carefully crafted papers earned comments ranging from derision to abuse, starting with “Bullshit” in September and culminating in, “When, oh when, will you write something I can praise?” I finally backed into praise on the final exam, where I hadn’t a clue what the prompt was asking me to do, so I just wrote about a movie that I’d seen the night before. Bingo! He liked it! And, being lost, I just wrote with no sense of direction.

            Much of my blog writing is an act of exploration, for I don’t know what I am saying until I work my way through. I recall that one of my English 1-2 professors said that good writing is, most of all, a performance. So I start with a detail or a phrase – something I heard or saw that stuck – and then I let the caffeine do the work. If I ever start to feel blocked, I just lower my standards and keep going. I don’t worry about having an “ending” to my piece, and I often throw away the opening. In fact, my frequent writing advice to my high school seniors was to dump their opening paragraph and just jump in. I know that some kinds of writing have formulas that don’t allow for that, but I am not much interested in them. It helps that I don’t have a point to make.


            “Aim” comes last. That’s where I revise, moving paragraphs around, dumping stuff that’s boring, fixing awkward phrases, working especially hard on the opening and closing of paragraphs – the transitions. I’m usually better at editing other people’s work than my own, so when I’m pretty happy with what I wrote I give Kim a go at it. She’s a good reader and unfailingly honest in her comments, so I usually take her advice. She is especially good at helping me end my pieces.

            She had a few general rules back when I was doing poetry readings – certain body parts that I was not to mention publically. For my blog she has different advice: be more open about my feelings, more vulnerable. She likes the humor but sees it as, at times, a sort of evasion. Guilty! Like many men, especially in my generation, I’m not comfortable talking directly about my feelings – a fact Kim will confirm. When you ask a man how he feels about this or that, and he says, “Fine,” what he means is, “I don’t understand the question.” My writing “performance” takes the place of direct statements about my feelings.

UPDATE: Kim is gradually getting better. She now does almost all of the cooking, though I do help by peeling carrots, potatoes and apples, and by reaching things on high or low shelves. I was in charge of cooking when Kim was feeling serious nausea from her radiation. I could always tell that my meal was a success if it did not make Kim throw up. (I set the bar pretty low.)

1 comment:

  1. I like your approach to writing or lack of it! I studied poetry writing with Steve Dunning. I liked him as a teacher. Happy to hear Kim is doing better. Keeping a schedule is really hard when you are retired.Jim is supposed to write on Mon.,Wed., Fri.mornings. Most of the time, he's at the piano on those mornings. I suppose he's doing a more creative free form type of writing with the keys on the piano!