Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Writing, Part One of Two

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a class of kids about writing and publishing. I'm a writer and editor, so I think about this stuff a lot, and I enjoy the opportunity to opine when it comes along. So I wrote up a bunch of notes and tromped on over there, only to realize immediately upon entering the classroom that what I had prepared was not going to play in a room full of third-graders. So I improvised, and we (or I, I should say; ask teacher Tony Melton what the kids thought) had a good time.

I still liked what I had put together, though, and I'm still suffering a fair bit of blogger's block for the new year. So here's the first of two posts on why we write, how we write, and how we get better at it.

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Why we write
We write because something about what language does compels us. We notice the impact of sentences, of paragraphs, of stories, on the people around us and on ourselves. We notice that we think better about an idea when we can look at it on screen or on paper. We notice that much of what we know about the universe, about the past, about ourselves, about our neighbors, we know because we read it, which means that someone wrote it. We write because we can and because we should.

Sit down in a quiet, calm place and write down what comes to mind. Then read what came to mind and think about it some more and write what you find yourself thinking about. Maybe you’re thinking about a person—a friend or your mom or the president. The more you write about that person, the fuller a picture you gain for yourself of that person. That sort of thing.

What we write
We write what we know or want to know, what we see or wish we saw, what we dreamt or what gave us nightmares. We write about people who inspire us, places that impress us, things that intrigue us. We write about things we feel special connection to and things that we think we can explain or illuminate in ways that other people can’t. If you’re a fan of baseball, write about baseball.

If you have a favorite singer, write about that singer’s music or imagine what life as a professional singer might be like.

How we write
There’s writing, and then there’s revising. Writing is what we do when we first sit down. Revising is what we do once we’ve finished writing and want to make our writing better. No writing is what it could be without committing to revising.

As you review what you’ve written, ask yourself questions: What more would I like to know about this person, place or thing? What details have I left out that are important to what I’m writing about? What will make this story more interesting? More realistic? Funnier? What more do I need to know about this subject to do justice to it?

How we publish
Publishing is a tricky business. It takes far more than one person to get something published. There’s the writer, of course, but there’s also the editor—the person who reads what the writer has written and helps him or her revise. There’s the person who imagines what the text should look like on the page, and if there are pictures that should go alongside it, what those pictures should look like. There’s the person who manages the technology so people can read what’s written—whether in print or on the computer. There’s the people who let the world know that this new thing is out there and should be read, and the people who get it from the box into their hands. The writer has a responsibility to all those people to give them something good to work with.

Why we read
We read because a writer has captured our imagination. We read because someone has convinced us we need to know more about something. We read because we’re bored or because the TV’s on the fritz. We read because it’s one of those things that human beings have discovered can make us happy and make our lives better. We read, generally, as an act of faith that keeps getting rewarded with a good experience. And we write because we’ve seen the power in writing by what we’ve read.

2 comments:

Sarah Pulliam Bailey said...

Hi David, I've been suffering from a little writer's block as well - is there something about January that makes writers suffer more than usual? Anyway, thanks for these reminders.

David Zimmerman said...

Hmmm. Our right-brains hibernate in January? Epiphany isn't as intriguing a season as Advent or Christmas? We're so busy trying to keep our resolutions that we stop writing?