Tag Archives: letters

You Mean, You Have to Practice?

“A thousand books on tennis won’t improve your serve, but a thousand serves will.”
~ Rick DeMarinis, from an excerpt of his article printed in The Writer, November 1985, and reprinted in the November 2010 issue.

~

As I sat in a hallway at work the other day, I overheard someone practicing the tuba. The music climbed the scale with perfect tone but then squealed and tumbled into low vibrations, like the sounds of a diesel truck unwilling to start. I flashed back to a recent conversation with my son.

“Mommy,” he said, “I want to play the trumpet.”

“That’s excellent!” I cheered. Then, I rattled off stipulations and requirements that he ignored until he heard the word “lessons.”

“No, mom. I don’t want to take lessons. I just want to play the trumpet.”

Oh.

Right.

My son and I are not so different in that way.

“I just want to write a novel.” How many times have I said that before?

In the beginning, I didn’t have time for books about the craft or a writing class or advice about failed first novels.

“I just want to write,” I repeated.

But, writing – like tennis or trumpet playing or…anything, really – is rarely done well the first time or the first hundred times. To hone my writing skills, I needed diligence, a willingness to learn, and a daily commitment.

And, I needed to practice.

I understand that now, so I practice my writing in several ways.

1. Morning pages. Every day I write one to three pages — of rants, self-doubts, or goals for the day. Often, I start off by reminding myself what day of the week it is, a challenge in itself sometimes. Occasionally, I record a milestone, like a draft complete or a short story’s Honorable Mention.

2. Letters to my best friend. Inspired by Lynn at The Letter Jar, who is on a mission to compose 365 letters in 365 days, I began writing letters to a dear friend with two small children. Phone calls are near to impossible when you have small kids at home. Besides, a hand-written letter is a treasure after a long day of laundry, meals, and redirection. While it’s a different kind of writing, it draws out my creative side just the same and often leads to story-telling. Plus, I reconnect with my dear friend in an old, and more intimate, way.

3. Writing exercises. Every other Wednesday, I face a strict deadline to post a story, by midnight, based on a word prompt. While the deadline is self-imposed, I have good reasons why I don’t blow it off: 1) I am motivated to write something new, 2) I stretch my writer’s mind by forcing myself to write outside of the box (a psychopomp might stand at your death bed wearing a hooded cloak or he might just show up in a Mets cap), and 3) each attempt at the exercise reinforces my commitment to writing.

4. Submitting. I’m not talking about submitting to my inner editor or the lackadaisical attitude of my muse some days. I mean, that whenever and wherever I can, I submit a completed story. I’m a firm believer that there’s much to be gained in the practice of writing cover letters, following submission guidelines, and crafting the ever-painful three sentence bio.

5. Reading. Nowadays, on top of novels and short story collections, I do read books and magazines on and about writing. Then, I translate my experience as a reader into my perspective as a writer, by writing a post about an inspiring article or interviewing a guest author.

6. Writing workshops and Author Readings. Workshops help me grow as a writer in the areas of craft and in giving and receiving feedback (which complements all lessons learned about writing). Also, when I attend an Author Reading, I learn the art of not sweating buckets or passing out while standing at a podium, in front of a roomful of peers, reading your story.

(Lordy.)

What kinds of exercises help you practice your writing?

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The word escapes me.

This Wednesday’s Word idea is challenging today.

pleiad: noun. a group of (usually seven) brilliant persons or things.
(from wordsmith.org, today’s word)
*****

I named this blog Writing Under Pressure for a reason. On a daily basis, I steal time away from things I should and could be doing, just so I can write. My writing often happens in short, concentrated stints of time. But, once in a while, I come upon a chunk of unscheduled quiet. In a flurry, I open my laptop, log on and wiggle my fingers. Then, I sit.

And, stare.

Type a sentence. Backspace. Cut and paste. Reformat. Save. Forget it.

In all that time, no real writing gets done. No wonder I struggle against that mean old mantra: I’m wasting my time. What I need is a pleiad of writer-friendly perks:

  1. Coffee. Good and strong. I like Hazelnut, sometimes with a dash of cinnamon.
  2. An antique writing desk.
  3. Unlimited credit at Broadway paper, so I can buy all the pretty little papers I want, a smorgasbord of creativity.
  4. Mail from one of those literary magazines where I’ve submitted stories, with a letter inside that starts out “we’ve been looking for you all of our literary lives” (over the top, I know, but this is my pleiad).
  5. ESP, so I can see into the future and know if that novel is really worth a rewrite.
  6. A writer’s retreat, in a cabin in the woods.
  7. Readers.

What’s your perfect pleiad?

Awarded the chance to share.

Tamara, who writes Little Conversations, shared a blog award with me:

blog_honest_award_thumb

My thanks to Tamara, as this award gives me a chance to think about 10 things that describe who I am as a person and a writer. The award suggests 10 secrets, but don’t our secrets reveal our person? Plus, as the award must be passed on to others, I can share links to a few worthy blogs I read on a regular basis:

The Writing Vein
Monpon
Writing, Reading, & Reflections
Mama C and the Boys
House of Sand and Fog

Now, to 10 things you might, or might not, care to know about me:

1 I vacillate between thinking I have something to write about and wondering, who do I think I am?

2 My first collection of short stories was written on a small spiral notebook about a young crush with curly red hair. If he only knew….

3 I believe in Karma, what goes around comes around. If I’m kind to my writing colleagues, I hope they will be kind to me.

4 I’m often a cynic when it comes to politics, religion, and facebook.

5 I write morning pages every day. While I love them, I haven’t deciphered the difference between the purpose of them versus my personal journals. Maybe the latter fills up faster with rants and raves.

6 I write “looking forward to working with you” way too often in emails and letters. There must be an alternative.

7 I’d rather have strangers read my writing than my own family.

8 Margaret Atwood has been one of my favorite authors, ever since I read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Edible Woman.

9 My mother always wanted me to write a book about her. I wonder if she would haunt me from beyond if I really did.

10 Writing blog posts takes me much longer than I think it should. But, then, I’m a perfectionist at times.

If you made it through these 10, you’re very kind (good Karma headed your way).

Put pen to paper, please.

I recently browsed onto this article at Time online by Claire Suddath about the dying art of handwriting. Claire Suddath writes that the take over of technology has caused schools to decrease the amount of good quality time teaching penmanship.

Learn to read, learn to keyboard, but don’t worry about learning to write a long letter. If you want to contact your Senator, just send an email. You don’t even need to master your own signature. Petitions are all online these days, too, and checks — archaic.

Still, with all the artists and writers in the world, handwriting must exist. Part of my writer-esque includes a life-long search for the perfect journal and the perfect pen. If I’m going to write out my worst insanity, I want it to look good on paper. And, I spend a significant amount of time analyzing calendars and mechanical pencils at the start of a new year, debating over the authority in a 0.7mm versus a 0.5mm pencil. I stare for hours at an aisle of sharpies in every color of the rainbow.

Writers and artists aren’t alone in their craft of handwriting. I can recognize an architect in a second from numbers and letters alone. My son received a birthday party invitation in the mail a few weeks ago. I expected childlike writing. But, when I opened it, I thought parent and architect. The numbers were drawn in one fluid movement and the “what, when and where” was spelled out in squared and angled capital letters. My hunch was confirmed when my son brought home his light saber party favor, made from a swim noodle, an exacto knife, and various colors of duct tape.

Even Claire Suddath acknowledges that handwriting is critical in certain professions. She mentions the thousands of deaths that occur because of doctors’ illegible writing on charts and scripts. I’m drawn to the fact that all doctors sign the same. No matter their name, the signature starts with a few rises and falls, then flatlines. Do they teach that in medical school?

“Handwriting” and “defunct” must never be in the same sentence. I pledge to write a “thinking of you” note to someone at least once a month. Maybe once a week. Because next thing you know, I’ll stumble onto an article about the demise of the US Postal Service.

I mean, I like evite invitations and e-cards. They’re cute. They keep the graphic artists in business. But, I look forward to the slam of the mail slot around 11am every day. My heart jumps when I see a small envelope, addressed to me, in my best friend’s or my dad’s handwriting. A little pen to paper can make my whole day.