by d. pearse
If you are reading this, you know enough to know you want to write. You’ve been writing figuratively for a long time. You see things most people don’t. You feel things others ignore and things sound different to you. What you want to say can’t be said out-loud. You’ll never know the writer inside until you write something, and someone says, “I like what you wrote.” Or, they might say, “I hate what you wrote!” You’re allowed two days of mope for negative criticism, and essentially the rest of your life to savor the good stuff.
So, I would suggest, merely suggest, you start writing as soon as you want to either mope for a coupla days, or you want more of that good stuff. And the more you write, the better you get. While I enjoy the solitude of writing, I like the praise, too. I will attempt to appeal to the most logical edges of your brain and encourage you to a) read all you can about writing, at least for about the three months it’ll take to learn the nuts and bolts, and b) read a variety of work, especially that in your preferred genre and perhaps even more importantly, outside your comfort zone. But, first:
Find a small notebook which is easily transported. Mine is that tan piece above. This is your commonplace book, or your writer’s prompt. The more you use it, the more magic it attracts. Compile all manner of notes in it. Smart stuff, trivia, snippets of conversation, the description of a matron’s frock on the East Idlewood trolley. A recipe for apple sweets, or the chemical equation for Lanthanum’s valence. Start writing minutes before the bell rings, then stop abruptly…set those thoughts aside until the morrow. At Noon, not a minute before, turn to the page number that corresponds to your birth month. In my case, 12. If you are wearing shoes, count the odd-numbered lines down, if barefoot, the even ones, until the kettle weeps. Now, join your scribblings from yesterday, to the bit you just clipped from the papers. And finish the story any way you like.
Find about ten great writers and start collecting their books. Not too quick, one a month, two at most. Here’s part of my list; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Austen, Conan-Doyle, Tolstoy…get some modern chaps, too. The Paris Review is a great resource for the insight of many different writers and their various styles.
No one is going to test you on this set of literature, so read peripatetically, either thoroughly, or just around the edges. It doesn’t matter, you’re looking for style and craft. How do these writers cobble a sentence? Three other books I’ve found handy, a good dictionary, a thesaurus, and a book on grammar. I recommend Websters Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, and any one of these for grammar: The Elements of Style, by Strunk; The Chicago Manual of Style; and The Associated Press Handbook. Grammar books can be pricey. I’ve photocopied some pertinent pages on sentence construction at the Library. Eventually, you will find a style you like and fall into it. Then, an editor will change every thing. We move on, Buttercup. Take my papers, but I defy you to take mine knowledge. Chicago and AP style will never be wrong, nor you for using it.
Now find a larger notebook. I like the three-ring binder model, maybe 1 – 2 inches. Easy to handle, easy to adapt. I can three-punch articles from magazines, put in sketch work (I love drawing maps and floor plans), and manner of scraps. These notebooks are great for the keeping of ideas in one place. I also put my drafts in one. I dry edit in them, that is with a pencil. I then use one for the final revision that goes to my printer for a Line Copy or Reader’s Copy, whatever. Good stuff.
Get in the habit of reading. Good, bad, who cares. You should. But that distinction is yours alone. When you think you’re ready to write, you are ready to write. And by all means, begin. I try to write early in the morning, before sunrise. I find it almost spiritual. It’s certainly the most serene writing time I’ve ever found. I will prompt, doodle, and read throughout the day. Not so much that I imperil my employment or so much that I become bored. If upon arrival at home I cannot write for the evening hour, I let it pass. Okay, maybe a tad of dialogue. I find it super important to be in the mood, but I find if I give it 15 minutes, I can get an hour or at least a page in. And don’t worry too much about word count until… right about…NOW!
You should strive to type quickly and accurately. Yet, there is no set figure to reach or vie for. On a good, clear day I can type close to 600 words in an hour if it’s being fed to me. I type a lot for my paycheck job. If it’s clearly written and I have no issues, 80-100 words per minute. I am also typing many words/phrases over and over. Yes, I have hot keys that put down, “Patient presents”. In prose, my goal is a solid, no typo’s at 400 per hour. So, if you are using a Word product, under Tools, you will find a drop-down for word count. I do keep a little tally that is more or less updated every week. Four hundred words is a page for my genre. I am looking at 130-150 pages for a book. This comprises about 150 hrs or typing without correction, editing, or revision.
Start writing, whether long-hand, in a processor, or on a manual. Hammer and chisel, if that’s what it takes. You should have a definite feeling to write. Write for at least fifteen minutes a day for five days, half an hour each day for a week, an hour daily day for a fortnight. If you need to miss a day for good reason, so be it. But don’t skip it because…well, for just about any other reason. Start writing and encourage yourself by whatever means to keep at it for a solid month, 30 days. At the end of thirty days, you will be ready to tell yourself the story you want to tell everyone else.
Next time, How to start…