Reflections on Writing: Part One
March 28, 2015 marks the fifth centenary of Teresa of Avila’s birth. It also marks two years of blogging for me.
This is my first serious attempt at writing. I had thought about writing for a number of years. Family members and friends encouraged me to write. I read a number of books on writing. I did everything but write. Apparently I even look like a writer. Once, at a Starbucks in Colorado, a stranger walked up to my table and asked me if I was a writer. I said, “No, but I’m thinking about it”. I don’t think that impressed him.
I periodically asked my daughter Lindsay, a writer, her advice about my next steps to writing. She repeated the same advice: “Start writing”. This shouldn’t have been complicated, but it took me a while to understand that in order to become a writer, I have to write. A few months after beginning the blog, I mentioned to her I was thinking about attending a writing workshop: “Do you think I should go?” She said, “No, you should be writing”. William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, echoes my daughter’s advice:
You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true, and it can’t be repeated often enough. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.
If you went to work for a newspaper that required you to write two or three articles every day, you would be a better writer after six months. You wouldn’t necessarily be writing well–your style might still be pedestrian, full of clutter and cliches. But at least you would be exercising your powers of putting the English language on paper, gaining confidence, and identifying the commonest problems. (William Zinsser: On Writing Well).
Before I began blogging I had three writing projects in mind: Spirituality, leadership, and relationships. I had to narrow the scope. Most of my family and friends were recommending I write about leadership. For a number of reasons I chose The Interior Castle. I was hoping to complete this project by March 28, 2015 — Teresa’s 500th birthday, but it will probably take me an additional year. My plan is to then write about leadership and/or relationships.
A helpful first step in my writing came from Daphne Gray-Grant and her book: 8 1/2 Steps to Writing, Faster, Better. She gives a writing pattern that separates planning, writing, and editing into steps. While I don’t always follow the steps rigidly (sorry Daphne), they still guide my writing habits and help me find my way when I get stuck.
I also had to figure out how to write while maintaining balance in other areas of life including family and a full-time job. It took me almost two years to find a routine I’m comfortable with. Scheduling time to avoid interruptions is important to writing. Then you write whether you feel like it or not.
A significant step forward was when I answered the question: Who is my audience? William Zissner said we should write for ourselves. I found this made writing easier, more fulfilling, and more adventurous. I wrote what I wanted. I didn’t worry about whether people wanted to read it or not. Or like it or not. I believe this approach supports creativity and makes the content more interesting.
Michael Lewis, in his book Moneyball, wrote about baseball thinker and writer Bill James. James changed the way many thought about baseball. Lewis wrote, “His work tested many hypotheses about baseball directly against hard data–and sometimes did violence to the laws of statistics. But it also tested, less intentionally, a hypothesis about literature: if you write well enough about a single subject, even a subject seemingly as trivial as baseball statistics, you needn’t write about anything else.” (Michael Lewis: Moneyball)
I also tested this hypothesis. Who’s going to read my reflections about the writings of a 16th century Catholic Carmelite nun? I’m not a scholar. I’m not Catholic. I’m not even all that “religious”. I take Jesus seriously and wanted to put my faith journey and observations about the spiritual life on paper. So I write about it.
My blog numbers are tiny compared to most serious bloggers. I expected that since I’m writing about such a narrow subject. I set a goal of 5000 views over a two-year span (about 50 a week). The first month I averaged less than 3 views a day. But I was excited every time someone looked at it. I’ve now written 173 posts. It might be the length of a small book by now. This month I reached 10,000 total views from 70 different countries. Again, this is still small for a serious blogger, but it helped me realize people would actually read my writing.
I learned a few things as I began the writing process and also found some material to be helpful. Many of you are skilled writers and bloggers; I would love to also hear your suggestions as well.
To get started as a writer:
- Schedule a time to write.
- Have a pattern of writing: 8 1/2 Steps.
- Write what you want to write about. And write for yourself.
- Write about something in detail rather than random musings. Here are a few examples:
– Poetic Parfait
– Study Hacks: Decoding Patterns of Success
– La Audacia de Aquiles
– Graffiti Lux and Murals
A few books I would recommend on the writing and creative process:
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better by Daphne Gray-Grant
- On Writing by Stephen King
- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
- Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott
At the beginning of some books the author seems to thank everyone they’ve ever met for a contribution to their work. I understand those feelings now. I have family, friends, loyal readers, and “blogger friends” who are very supportive. Thank you. Most of all I want to thank Janet (my wife) who encouraged me to write long before I thought it possible. She provides tempered, but excellent advice on how I can improve my writing or the blog — and it always works. She also supports the time I spend writing and helps me avoid interruptions — yet keeps me connected to the outside world when I’m writing. She walked through this morning and pulled up the shades: “The sun’s coming up and it’s pink outside.” Who would want to miss that — or her — even for writing?