Write Just Right

Don’t deny it. You are a writer. Everyone who writes is a writer. But why is it so hard to do? Honestly speaking, writing is hard in many aspects. The research, the drafting process, the final touches are all time-consuming steps that can easily make you give up right then and there. But the first thing that most likely discourages you first is the unfamiliarity that writing brings. You get stuck for an idea or you don’t know where to start. Then the tension eats you up and finally you crunch up the blank piece of paper in front of you and you toss it way.

But writing doesn’t have to be so hard. Like learning to play a musical instrument, it takes patience and lots of practice in order to get the music to flow. There are many strategies out there that may or may not appeal to you, and the only way to find out is to try. See what works best for you, and go from there.

Practicing writing is really no ordeal, but there are no set rules. You can’t take out your pen and write a set of sentences over and over again like you do a piece of music.

So you’re tense. No problem. You can definitely loosen up and get a little familiar with the act of putting pen to paper. Firstly, there’s your writing environment. Make yourself comfortable with your surroundings. Amy Tan, in John Updike’s “The Literary Life,” comments, ”I surround myself with objects that carry with them a personal history — old books, bowls and boxes, splintering chairs and benches from imperial China. I imagine the people who once turned the pages or rubbed their palms on these surfaces. While they were thinking—thinking what?” So perhaps this way you can get your inspiration and motivation from what is around you. Base your writing on something comfortable and familiar, something that appeals to you.

You need a sense of ease that relaxes and frees the imagination, but not too much. So comfortable a setting can get you distracted from the task at hand. Also, it helps to have some prior engagement, so that your mind doesn’t meander and tire out, for writing is a tedious task. Katherine Anne Porter, for example, claims, “I can live a solitary life for months at a time, and it does me good, because I’m working.” Of course, you can not really devote all your time to writing. It’s nice to pause in between, anyway, as it refreshes your mind and gets you new ideas.

People tend to overlook writing materials, as they don’t really see what a difference it makes. Some people feel more comfortable with a ball point pen than with a pencil, or more with a legal pad than with a typewriter. Being comfortable helps you write, after all. So, try them out. Take the most snug fit.

Now that you’ve got your environment and preferences settled, on to the real techniques that get you writing easier. The key to writing, as said earlier, is practice, preferably in the form of a journal. By keeping a journal you can easily look back and note progress as well as certain ideas that you’d like to use. In Writing Is Critical Action Tilly Warnock claims, “Journal writing keeps the wheels greased. You can record information, take notes, explore ideas, practice kinds of writing, develop your voices, and, in short, experiment.” P.G. Wodelhouse and Joyce Carol Oates also support this claim, as taking notes and experimentation lead to writing eventually.

Now, you don’t necessarily write personal entries in this journal. If that leaves you with nothing to write, you can fool yourself into filling a page. Just write, and even though it may seem gibberish and nonsense, you will find that it really isn’t nonsense at all. Somewhere in there you will find a voice. Your voice. And you know that isn’t nonsense!

You can also keep lists of subjects that you can write about. Authority lists contain subjects that you know a thing or two about. Questions lists don’t contain questions – that would have been smart – but subjects that you want to know more about.

Once you’ve got your environment, your writing tools and your journal, what else could you possibly need now? How about real writing strategies? These fall under five basic attitudes, as suggested by Heffernan and Lincoln’s Writing: A College Handbook as well as Tilly Warnock:

Lower your standards. Go easy on yourself. Expect less, and later you’ll learn to expect more. Get tough later while proofreading, not when you’re trying to get ideas. You can freewrite, brainstorm, map it out or draw, just accept anything and everything.

Let it all die out. Forget the other things you have to do momentarily. True, you need something to keep you in touch with the rest of the world. But let all the hectic stuff dies out in your mind. Think of nothing but writing and filling that page. Think. Freewrite with a certain focus.

Write and wait for it. This is for those people who have a little more time. Sit near a window, and wait for something to come to you. Sometimes you may not get anything at all and that may scare you, but it’s all very regular. (Just don’t rely on this technique during your English test.) Stare out into space, or do something else while you’re waiting. It will most likely hit you over the head then. And when it does, have your paper pad and pen ready.

Kill it right there. There may be an annoying little voice, putting you down and discouraging you. “You can’t do it.” “Everyone writes better than you.” Well, identify it. Then deal with it.

Have faith. Swimmers know that water has a natural buoyancy. Writers are similar – they have faith in their writing. It will come. Believe that, and it will eventually come to you.

Being systematic in your writing also helps. Have a set time period for writing each day. Write in the same fashion, but don’t be afraid to experiment. John Steinbeck, while writing East of Eden, kept a journal in which he wrote to his editor and dear friend Pascal Covici. The journal entries are at the left of the large notebooks, and the novel on the right. Both parts are written with the same tiny but legible handwriting in sharp pencil.

Perhaps routine helps you work and gets your mind used to writing. Or maybe you need a little spontaneity. See what works best for you, and go forth from that. But, as Pat Kubis and Robert Howland write in The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction, practice makes perfect, so keep at it. Write a letter to your friend instead of calling her. Keep in touch with long lost acquaintances and make new friends. Become a pen pal. Practice, practice, practice. Eventually, you will see the light. And that light will be none other than your own voice.

Works Cited

Heffman, James A. and Lincoln, John E. Writing: A College Handbook. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1982.
Kubis, Pat and Howland, Robert. The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction: And Getting it Published. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1990.
Steinbeck, John. Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. New York: Bantam Books. 1970.
Updike, John. “The Literary Life.” Civilization December 1996/1997. Pgs 56-73.
Warnock, Tilly. Writing is Critical Action. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company. 1989.

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Copyright (c) 1998 by Gemma Truman
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This is part of the final project which I completed for my Writing for College class, which consisted of a researched, well-written article and a 30-minute workshop. At the time nothing interested me more than teaching and writing about the actual process of starting to write, and so I chose to do it.