February 09, 2013

The Writer’s Path

WritePathAlthough 99% of my writing is stored electronically in several places, I have a  filing cabinet in my office, with drawers 24" deep. The back of of them is hard to access. That’s where my oldest stories are stored, the ones I wrote in 1979 on my old Smith Corona electric at the beginning of my journey along my Writer’s Path.

Every few years I pull those stories out and am reminded again how utterly pitiful they are. True, they were fiction. Sort of. I didn’t know about lifestory writing yet, and would not have been brave enough to write openly anyway. Although some content is touching, descriptions were flat as Kansas, dialogue stilted and contrived. They jumped around. And they were preachy. I had an agenda when I wrote those stories and it wasn’t hidden. They were a start.

Twenty-five years ago, I knew nothing of creative writing classes or writing groups, and never thought to look for books on how to write. I was shooting from the finger tips, buoyed by A’s on research papers.

I fared a bit better when I became contributing editor for a local women’s magazine, getting favorable remarks on my stories from casual acquaintances. When my first book, Meetings: Do’s, Don’ts and Donuts, was published in 1997, I was horrified by the first round of editing. That red ink looked like blood in a war zone.  Humiliation rapidly morphed into hope and excitement at the prospect of learning to be a serious writer. That experience was a cram course in writing.

Since then I’ve taken writing courses. I’ve read stacks and piles of books on how to write, spent hundreds of hours reading websites and listening to webinars and podcasts. But even more, I’ve written and written, and I’ve edited hundreds of stories for students. I have written for at least those 10,000 hours presumably required for mastery, though I don’t claim any titles as such. I’m great at description, but I still have much to learn. My path continues to go up and down, rising overall.

Looking back at those early stories, even at early blog posts, I can see that yes, I have learned, slowly at first, then more rapidly as I climbed along that path. I have grown as a writer, and I hope I continue to do so as long as my fingers move. I still can’t crank out a masterpiece on the first try. I edit my own work, sometimes going back months later when it feels like a stranger wrote it. And I continue to rely on feedback from others for points of view I would never, ever think of.

New writers, take heart. While it’s true that some people are born with a gift for eloquence, even they have a learning curve – they just learn faster. Some people are born with an eye for painting, others with the right legs for running. We each have a gift. But even those without “the gift” can learn to produce respectable results.

With practice.
With guidance.
With collaboration.

Take classes. Read, both how-to-write books and memoir or fiction. Join a writing group. Above all, keep writing. You’ll see results much sooner than I did, because it took me forever to find people to help me along the path. You don’t have to wait. Please join our growing community of life writers on the Life Writers Forum on YahooGroups. Sign up for the mailing list of the National Association of Memoir Writers and participate in the free monthly teleseminar roundtables. And keep writing! Climb that writer’s path, one story at a time.

Write now: write a story about your earliest memory if you’ve never written before. Pull out the oldest story you can find if you’ve been writing for awhile and look for ways to improve it. If you don’t see any, show it to a writing buddy and ask for feedback. If you still can’t find any, congratulations. You are ready for publication!

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