Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Want To Be a Paperback Writer

If someone told you to put a pen to paper and write non-stop for ten minutes—no thinking, no editing, no crossing out—on the subject of, I dunno, bananas...could you do it?

I spent the last three Saturday afternoons in a writing workshop, and that’s an example of one of the exercises we did, taking specific prompts like that and doing timed writings.

The idea is that free-writing about bananas might lead your subconscious to a deeper topic about which you really wanted to a Christmas memory with Aunt Nell, perhaps. (who maybe was bananas!)

There were seven of us in the class, led by a high-energy instructor who had mountains of information to share and gazillions of techniques to get us writing and keep us writing. None of us students earned a living with our writing, but we were all writers, all there for basically the same reason: we knew the thrill of putting a word down on paper or screen, and then putting another word after it, and continuing on that path to see where it would lead us.

My bookshelves contain dozens of books on the writing craft: how to free your creativity, how to overcome writer’s block, when to use “laying” instead of “lying.” I’ve spent more time reading about writing than I’ve spent...writing.

And while learning about writing is an integral element for writers of all levels, the bottom line is that if you want to be a writer, you’ve gotta write!

For the record, I knew this simple rule going in...but it was reinforced during our hours together, and often it needs to be slammed home a few times before the light bulb goes on and you tell yourself, “Ohhh yeah. I better sit down and write.”

Sure, I’ve got this blog, and I write a weekly column, and I’ve been known to write mini-novellas in e-mails to friends.

But I don’t practice my writing as much as I should. Just like a pro hooper still shoots layups before each game, a writer needs practice, too. I need to put in my time writing about bananas, doing my layups.

I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for this workshop, and when it said enrollment was limited, I wasn’t sure if that meant 30 students or 10. We had seven, and spent our sessions around a table in a “group discussion” setting, not exactly my strong suit.

Never the most vocal member of any group, I’m more comfortable in a classroom setting where I can sit in the back row near the heat register and blend in. If I want to express myself, I grab a pen or a keyboard, rather than raising my voice to speak. (gee, I must be a writer, or something.)

But a slight transformation took place among that group. I found myself opening up a little more than I’m used to. I cared a great deal about the material, and once in a while I knew what I wanted to say, and I said it. Out loud. I kinda fit in, I guess.

There were eight very different personalities around that table, but it was an easy, loose environment in which to share ideas and questions, and to read each other’s work.

By the end of our last class, I learned that, to some degree, I know what I’m doing. I also learned that I’ve got a long, long way to go. I learned that there are so many people out there with so many fascinating ideas, it’s fun to see how those ideas translate to the page.

And I learned that I have to write. a writer. Are you? Grab a pen and find out!

And give me ten minutes on...aardvarks.
Or, Idaho potatoes, perhaps.

“So it is very deep to be a writer.
It is the deepest thing I know.
And I think, if not this, nothing—it will be
my way in the world for the rest of my life.
I have to remember this again and again.”
—Natalie Goldberg


  1. Writing is fun. I was a straight A student until around 4th grade, when I stopped caring. From that point on, I simply coasted through, doing the bare minimum to get by. But there was always one exception - writing. If I got a chance to write something, tell a story, or be creative, I got into it. I loved it. I thrived at it.

    I eventually went to college, and took several writing course there as well. I got a short story published in some small magazine. I wrote for the school newspaper at UWGB. Then I graduated in 1996. And for the next 10 years... nothing.

    And I missed it.

    I had thoughts and ideas. But I was too lazy to do anything with them. I knew I was capable. I was confident that I was good. But I had no outlet.

    Then in 2006, the concept of a blog came to be. And that opened up the floodgates. I've had a blast with blogging in the past year. I've enjoyed it. I've entertained others. And I guess I inspired others to blog as well. How fucking cool is that?

    Practice your craft. It's fun and rewarding.

  2. Yes Ggg you are a writer. And not just cuz you write. You love words and use them amazingly well and make it look soooo easy when I'm sure it's not. I even do a little happy dance when I see a new picture pop up in your blog because I know there's something new and it will make me grin. If you listen real hard and squint your eyes up maybe you can see me over here waving my pom-poms up in the air (like I just don't care).

    The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can't help it.
    Leo Rosten

    Did you ever take Sapa's creative writing class?

  3. you have an electronic copy of the story you got published? I wouldn't mind giving it a read.

    And what did you write for the GB paper? Hard news, or mostly features? Or some of both?

    Erin...I took Sapa's creative writing class, but if you ask me to remember ANYthing about it right now, the only thing I can tell you was taught by Miss Sapa.

    (thanks for being my cheerleader.) :O)

  4. I don't have it in electronic form. And to be honest, I don't know where it is. Also, I wasn't overly impressed with it. It was far from my best work. But, it was apparently the best of all the other stories that were submitted. As I recall, mine was the only one that was unanimously chosen by all.

    As for UWGB, I mostly did entertainment articles - stuff like the top 10 horror films of all time and such. But I also did some opinion pieces as well - such as whether or not the Brewers should get a new stadium.