Every day isn't a good writing day. Accept it. You're not a machine. I hope not, at least. Machines make lousy writers. Look at the bestsellers list.
I'm not telling you 'Don't try.' I'm telling you it's not a crime to write something bad once in a while. Or to write nothing at all. I'm telling you, some of what I write is unmitigated crap. That's what waste baskets and trash bins are for. Stop kidding yourself. Every day is not a good writing day.
I write every day my health allows it. Mostly because I enjoy writing. Still, there's a part of me that identifies writing as my job. My duty. My obligation. I punch in at my laptop the same way a laborer punches in at his time clock. That's not to say I do it grudgingly. But there are days it comes close. There are days I poise my fingers over the keyboard and . . . nothing comes.
Irrationally, I feel guilty. But lots of feeling are irrational. Try to tell them that.
Rattled by my lack of inspiration, I'll type in 'The'. 'The' is a reliable starting point, but it's not foolproof. The word that comes after 'The' can make all the difference.
The man . . .
The doorknob . . .
The cookbook . . .
The woman with the broken high-heel . . .
Aha! 'The woman with the broken high-heel limped toward . . .'
. . . the subway station?
. . . the hotel lobby?
. . . the flaming inferno?
Okay, scratch 'The woman with the broken high-heel.' She's going nowhere. So what have I got left? 'The'. Otherwise known as bupkis. 'The' is bupkis on a bagel. So, I start in again.
The disgruntled cop . . .
The carnival barker . . .
The over-worked nurse with the purple eye-patch . . .
Purple eye-patch? You're the one who seems over-worked, compadre. Who do you think you are, Quenton Tarrantino?
At this point, I stand up, walk to the window. Gaze. Search, really. For inspiration. Nothing brewing on Cassidy Drive. Nothing ever brews on Cassidy Drive. Hell, I live in a place called Plainville. Seems to me a lack of creative inspiration has been ratified and grandfathered and incorporated into the entire town. Plainville. I guess Vanilla was already taken.
Back at my computer, I decide to try a new approach. I type 'A'.
A Swedish man . . .
A Swedish cookbook . . .
A Swedish doorknob . . .
A Swedish woman with a limp . . . and a purple eye-patch . . .
No use. Unless I want to write about meatballs, 'Swedish' does nothing for me.
I try the routine again. This time, using 'Chinese'.
All I get is a hankering for Egg Drop Soup and Mu Shu Pork.
After my MSG-laced lunch, I try again. But my heart isn't really in it. Somewhere on the TV dial they must be playing reruns of M*A*S*H, or Gunsmoke, or The Munsters. The temptation to vegetate overwhelms me.
I don't blame my muse--I let that subscription lapse long ago. I don't believe in fairy dust, either. No. There's no one and nothing to blame. Some days are just no good for writing. Or, some days I'm just not in the mood. And some days Hawkeye Pierce and Matt Dillon are more interesting than anything I've got say.
I'm not sure if it was my Dad or Jimmy Cagney, but somewhere along the line, someone told me, "If you ain't got somethin' to say, shut the hell up."
Every day isn't a good writing day.
Once upon a time, more years ago than many of you have roamed the earth, I was assigned a book to read in my college biology class. Imagine my undergraduate horror to find the first paragraph was a whole page long—and a single sentence. It had more twists and turns, conjunctions, clauses and subordinate clauses than the average mystery novel has plot twists. It was so complex that I was forced to dust off my sentence diagraming skills (which I’d known in my heart I’d never use outside high school English class) to make sense of the labyrinth before me. Worse, when I’d finally unraveled the author’s tangled skein of thought, I discovered the whole substance could have been conveyed in three simple sentences.
Now, I’ll admit academic manuscripts could, more often than not, benefit from a run through the campus’ English Department. Academics are experts in their research fields, not professional writers. One doesn’t expect their “publish or perish” tomes to be riveting reading. And so, the reader makes allowances.
Professional writers (and their hopeful protégés) should know better. Face it. We should have mastered the rhythms of storytelling that make run-on sentences a distraction rather than an asset to the telling of our tales. There’s no artistry in convolution, only dismay and confusion.
An interesting tidbit—I recently learned a teacher of ten-year-olds requires each paragraph in their five-paragraph essays to contain seven sentences. Seven. For a ten-year-old, that’s a lot of writing. Hopefully, most students will take the easy way out and write seven simple sentences per paragraph. This teacher is nipping the run-on sentence habit in the bud. The members of her class will become better writers as a consequence.
How does this affect you? Run-on sentences are a sign of an immature writer. They make editors groan. In a generous mood, this editor will ask the author to rewrite and resubmit. On a rushed day, the work will be rejected. So, I ask you … I implore you … I grovel, begging, before you---please, please, please deconstruct your run-on sentences. They’re not impressive, they’re exhausting.
Do you write for yourself, or for an audience? And how do you know who your audience will be? Sometimes, you don't, but you should have a plan.
Chronicling your experiences and thoughts in diaries, journals, and letters can be therapeutic. These writings are meant to be private even though you may choose to publish some of the material later for historic or other purposes. To protect others' privacy, using coded names, dates and places is common.
One may also write for personal amusement. In this case you, the creator, care nothing for the opinions or needs of outside readers; your work is an exercise in self-centered gratification. You're happily writing for an audience of one.
Writing for others should cause the writer to consider the wants and needs of the audience rather than her own. What does my target audience want/need to know? How does this information affect their lives? Do they need me to put on my authoritative voice, or do they want to be entertained. In fact, is the whole purpose of this piece to entertain others? These are the questions a writer asks herself when writing for an audience. This work product is meant to be commercial. The more accurately the author judges the needs or wants of her audience, the more popular her work will be. Just ask any Romance writer.
Memoir is similar to autobiography, but bears an important difference. Autobiography is factually accurate and objective, while memoir allows for the natural flaws and biases of memory (thus the name). Both are meant for an audience—family, organization, or the entire world.
Then, there are letters, emails, and other electronic messages. Although once held sacrosanct, the Electronic Age has made practically any private communication public domain. Don't expect privacy, folks, and you won't be disappointed. Even if you rid your electronic devices of all copies of the communication, it can still be retrieved by a knowledgeable person with the correct software. It exists--somewhere--forever. Keep in mind the vitriolic text is used as evidence in many a crime novel for a reason.
Aside from intentional snooping, both emails and faxes go astray. Once, I received a faxed form meant for the local Social Security office—complete with the client’s name, address, and social security number. And when I contacted the Social Security Office, I received a verbal shrug. (Good thing I’m not into identity theft.) Keep this experience in mind, and be careful in addressing your electronic mail.
Writing can be fun, therapeutic, informative, entertaining, embarrassing, or all the above. So before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, decide who your audience will be. Then unleash your talents and produce something worth reading.