Five Writing Strengths

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chuck tagged me with the Five Writing Strengths meme. I sat wondering for some time why he bothered. I know his heart was in the right place: I have not written recently. More specifically I posted my last musing, a measly hundred-word book review of Harry Potter, on August 27. I went back and did the math (yes, I am as challenged with calendars as I am with driving directions—it took me a few moments to realize that September followed August), and that was two months ago. Two months without a peep from sewcrates.

Chuck did allow for my short Cast of Horribles mini-musings. I felt these were almost a substitute for my musings. That is, until they began to shrink in size and effort. It wasn’t noticeable initially. Lately I’ve done away with the whole mini-musing and starting posting naked doodles. It’s less kinky than it sounds. I didn’t bother to draw a new doodle this weekend. I feel all tapped out of ideas and inspiration: a wonderful way to start November. I do have a few months of doodles in my back pocket. As I said before, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them during November. If it’s anything like the time it took to put together today’s musing, I will not have time to futz around with Horribles once my real writing begins.

My audience of three has taken my silence well. They must have figured I earned the break, after years of writing it was time for me to relax and live off the proceeds of my archives. Perhaps they have a point. I’ve been failing at this site since around 2002. I spent time reading through old posts to see the actual date of my first real one. Before I found it, however, I realized I was spending so much time reading old posts and rewriting my first two paragraphs (since it’s been so long since I last wrote, I felt the need to write something of quality—which for me means clever and well written as opposed to informative) that my window for actually writing was slowly closing. (Wow, did I just use a window metaphor? It just goes to show how long.)

I have never participated in an Internet meme. From what I gather, it is similar to a public chain letter: you send out one, and before long everyone is doing it. It’s usually top-five or top-ten lists, and it always seems ridiculous: a way of getting to know people you don’t really want to meet, in person, that is. I’m being disingenuous, of course. If I had the will, I would be more talkative in communities. Perhaps build relationships with other Internet people, which would give me something to talk about. Like do a meme, or something.

Enough throat clearing. I was asked a question, and now I have to answer it. This would be much easier if I had been asked to list my five writing weaknesses. I could and have written pages about my failings as a writer. If you scour my previous paragraphs, you’ll find at least five examples, also known as consternations. But as usual I digress. With only fifteen minutes of writing time left, it’s time to get to the topic at hand.

  1. I have a basic grasp of grammar and spelling. Yes, it may sound like I’m starting at the simplest and least important strength, but there are too many writers who lack the basics. Grammar and spelling is undervalued. A reader makes their first (and sometimes only) impression with the first few sentences. Many writers chase away their readers with common mistakes. (I’m looking at you, that/which and its/it’s.)
  2. I believe short writing is boring. Ever since the interwebs became popular, the short blog post has replaced well thought-out writing. Unlike some people, my writing, while occasionally long, is not terribly well-organized, well-researched, or directed to an attractive conclusion. My writing meanders with too many asides and untold attempts at cleverness. I never spend enough time planning or writing, ending when my energy wanes, which for this post should be at any moment. Even so, I recognize the value in long, well-thought out words. While I may pad too many of my posts, I do understand that it’s important to spend more than fifteen minutes putting it together. Anyone can write fifty well-crafted words. It’s only when you get beyond the word poetry that you move closer to saying something worth saying.
  3. My character sketches. I do my best writing when staring at a subject. I’ve done this in coffee shops, waiting in the airport, sitting in a restaurant, daydreaming in the park. I stare at a person, and I begin to write. I describe them first physically, and then I make up a story. It’s similar to how I doodle. I’m strongest when I have a subject in front of me, a photo or drawing as a starting pointing. From something, anything becomes possible. The gravity of nothingness is great and it takes strength to move beyond the echoes in my small head. I rarely know or meet these subjects. I stare until I find a trait that is attractive, that sets me off. The women in my Termite story was an example: a cute girl sitting in the bucks of stars.
  4. I sometimes grab hold of inspiration. Ever since coffee transformed my world, I’ve learned what inspiration tastes like. It’s not the yummy caffeine goodness, but what it provides: brief moments of true inspiration. I hope you’ve seen this in my writing. While I tend to love all of my words, I know there are paragraphs where I hit something true, where my inhibitions and doubts fall away, and I’m left with pure and beautiful inspiration. Athletes sometimes describe it as entering the zone. It’s that feeling that you can do no wrong, where time slows down, and words and plot come together. It’s those too-brief moments that make writing worthwhile for me.
  5. I can tie things together when I have enough rope. Which brings me to my last strength. Given the right materials, I can pull together an ending. While my stories and musings do not always work, when they do, I find it relatively easy to draw together the ending. Something clicks when I’ve properly arranged the pieces on the board. I see the end game, and it takes little effort to draw it to a close. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not necessarily about tightening up plot ends. I left off plot and storytelling from this list for good reason. What ending means to me is the drawing to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. It’s rare that I have the right pieces, and even rarer that they’re placed properly around the game board. But whatever state I’m in after my (usually failed) middle, I take it and write to a conclusion.

So there you have it. My first meme. It feels good to write again. The Marathon starts on Thursday, and any words in preparation are good ones. This entry clocks in at a light-weight 1,338 words (after editing). It’s taken me more than an hour, which sounds about right: on average days I write to 1,000 words per hour.

I’ve prepared sewcrates for the Marathon. I made the decision this year not to share my words. This is not because I hope to publish them one day (the fabled great American novel that allows me to retire and live the life of leisure: torturing myself by failing to write everyday), but in hopes of freeing myself to take on topics that I would not feel comfortable writing if I knew my audience of three was reading. This may change when I start writing, but be prepared to see lots of blue locks. I’ll post publicly my end of day thoughts along with my word count to keep me honest, and keep you updated.