Sunday, June 28, 2015

A How-To-Write Post

Everyone and his brother on line feels qualified to give advice on how to write. Some call themselves “consultants,” others have been ordained “Influencers” by the Church of the Internet. Some aren’t even native English speakers, and it shows. I admire their spirit, but they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. I’ve been writing for a long time, but I’ve refrained from giving advice on the subject. Until now.

Walking home from my writing bench one day when I’d been particularly prolific -- I had roughed out four stories that day --     I had an epiphany. It’s what a microbiologist must feel when he finally isolates a virus he’s thought from time to time must be there but has never pinned down. I’d been writing this essay-kind of stuff all along without ever defining how I was doing it, but right then  I finally, actually, definitively realized the “how” of it, and I’m going to pass it along here, free.

It’s not like when you write advertising copy or a letter to a friend. For those you know what you have to say or want to say. This is different. You just write a sentence.

Just that simple. You write something -- anything -- that suggests the possibility that it could be interesting, even if you're not yet sure how. Then you let your life experience write the rest.

Write something you once did, a place you remember, someone you knew or something you heard them say, something you read    -- and let the fragments begin to come together. You’re assembling pieces  of a puzzle whose final form you don’t know yet. You find fragment 4 really belongs in paragraph 2, so you move it, and sooner or later -- could be much later, but it’s sudden when it happens --  suddenly, that last piece snaps into place, and you have the essay or article or, in this case, blog post. And you weren’t even trying to teach anyone anything.

Of course, the longer you've been around, the more of those puzzle pieces you can spread out on the floor and hold up against each other. And damned if something you did in 1995 doesn’t suddenly slot into something you heard last week. If you’ve never had that feeling, you’re missing something.

Maybe I’ll pass this along in an article on the Internet. Dozens of people publish hundreds of tips, hints, suggestions, and rules about how to write, but this is as good as any of them, if you’re old enough. With enough experience, you'd know things to write about that might actually be interesting to other people. With enough experience you won't be surprised to hear that not everything you write will be.