WRITING FORMALLY vs FREELY
As a college professor, I wrote three successful textbooks and many scholarly articles. Quite frankly, I found academic writing to be tedious. Still, from the drafting, editing, redrafting and proofing, I learned the discipline to pace myself, accept criticism, and write clearly and concisely.
Once retired, my audience and focus changed. Creative notes I had been jotting down for years burst into my “free time.” Write it all down! I encouraged myself. This is what you’ve always really wanted to do.
LEARNING FROM EXPERTS
I attended writing classes for a year to provide the push I needed. In one class, the instructor asked what we were reading. Eight of the ten class members hadn’t read a book in at least five months. Writers should be readers to learn their craft: appreciating splendid sentences, well-wrought dialogue and concise but powerful use of words. We should be asking: how did the author do that? How can I do that?
One teacher rated a story I submitted an “eight out of ten.” So far, I’ve sent that story out 19 times and received 19 rejections. I keep trying because his praise sustains me. I can get it “right.” I know it!
AVOIDING FAMILY CRITIQUES
My sister-in-law asked me to critique a children’s book she’d written. Alas, it was a rough draft of a stereotypic story. To avoid telling her that, I assembled advice from experts to send her. These can help you more than I can, when you write the second draft. She never wrote another draft; I suspect she thought writing would be an easy one-off.
My husband made his living as an editor, but I don’t ask him to read my stuff. It’s painful for him to be objective about my writing. The first and last time I asked him “to take a look,” he resorted to copyediting. Now I find beta readers. We are both still happily married.
I am told that, when the rejections include comments, that’s a good sign. I consider the editor’s words carefully.
- I’d say, almost, but I think the story would improve with less dialogue that seems chiefly to take care of business and a few more abrupt transitions.
- This is a sweet story, generally well written, but it is missing an opportunity to explore more deeply the issues.
- We want you to know, though, that we read your piece with interest and it was almost there. It made our short list.
- We are not accepting your submission. I know that stings. Maybe a little, maybe a lot… But please know that we appreciate you sending a small chunk of your soul every time you send something to us. It does not go unnoticed. Best of luck to you in the future.
That last rejection did take a chunk of my soul. After being mad, sad and discouraged, though, I filed the story for a while. I won’t give up because with each revision, I get closer to writing a better story. I am learning and improving.
MY WRITING PROCESS
When I sit down to write, often I can’t get started. I sigh and stare at the monitor. Faulkner needed “tobacco, paper and a little whiskey.” I get a cup of coffee (my equivalent of whiskey) and a small snack (not tobacco). Then I shuffle through notes scribbled on scraps of paper and left wherever I happened to be when I had that “brilliant” thought. Most I end up discarding; how could I have thought this paltry piece of prose would blossom into anything? But some notes spark me and then I am lost in the writing for hours.
DISCOVERING MY NICHE
In 1946, sportswriter Paul Gallico wrote, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” Metaphorically, I bleed a lot. I have discovered that I seem to have a knack for sharing a memory that is both amusing and poignant. That has surprised me because I am a pretty serious person.
EMBRACE THE EQUATION
In all, during the past three years I have written multiple drafts of 21 stories, including memoir, travel essays, narrative non-fiction and fiction. Only seven of those have been published, about 30 percent of my finished pieces (excluding all the drafts and revisions). Two stories won prizes so I have made a whooping $350.00. It is good that I didn’t expect to make a living as a creative writer. What I hoped for is what I achieved: purpose, enrichment and an opportunity to write creatively every a day.
By the way, what I’ve written for this online writing journal took eight drafts.
Judy Richardson lives in Richmond, Virginia. She has written numerous articles for academic journals and three textbooks. Currently, she is writing a narrative non-fiction manuscript about her many years of mentoring refugees. She has published in The Penman Review, The Persimmon Tree, and Lowestoft Chronicle, as well as in Stories Through The Ages: Baby Boomers Plus-2017 and Nuance, Anthology of Ventura County Writers Club, 2018