I can't remember a time when I didn't love to write. In grade school, on days when it poured and we were forced to have recess indoors, my friend Missy and I would challenge each other to write a whole story by the end of recess. Our number two pencils would fly across the wide-ruled pages so quickly that we'd have to stop and sharpen them at least twice before the bell rang. I finally wised up and started bringing in my father's hard-leaded number 4 Ticonderogas; I could whip through an entire story about Gary the Grape or Mr. and Mrs. Brown the Circus Clowns without so much as looking up from the page once. My love of writing stemmed from a love of reading, and that, I know, came from the early days of my parents reading me stories when they tucked me in at night. Every child deserves this beginning in life. It is a gift that will serve her and grow with her throughout her life.
As an adult, I've been writing and publishing since my early twenties. I earned my MFA in creative writing in my late twenties, and writing and teaching others to write have been at the center of my life ever since then. If you are someone who shares this passion for the written word, I hope you'll keep coming to visit me in the coming months. On Fridays I'll be offering a writing exercise, tip, or bit of inspiration. All of these exercises are ones I use myself or ones that I have used over the years to help students hone their skills and develop their craft. If you feel like you want to improve your writing or that you just want to feel more inspired, try some of these exercises and tips for yourself.
This week's piece of inspiration is a basic--but important--one: If you don't own a writing notebook already, find one and make it your own. It doesn't have to be a leather-bound, hand-stitched wonder, but it can be if that's your preference. Really, a cheapie lined notebook will do. I use small-ish notebooks that I buy in large-ish quantities at Bob Slate's in Cambridge, MA. They're inexpensive, but the paper is a soft green that I find soothing to my eyes, and I love the line width. I write a lot, so I need a constant and affordable supply!
Why a writing notebook? you may ask. Why not just tip, tap, type away on my laptop? My answer is simple. You need it. Writing with a pen or pencil is completely different from typing on a computer. It uses different parts of your body, different parts of your brain. I taught college for a long time, and I was always fascinated by a roomful of students taking an essay test. As their pencils moved, their whole bodies became involved in the writing process. Some bobbed their heads, some hunched over, some moved their mouths as if speaking the words, some slid right to the edge of their chairs, almost as if they were about to hop up and chase after the elusive perfect phrase. We don't use our whole bodies in the same way when we type, and we certainly don't use our brains in the same way. Writing by hand is messy business. When our hand moves across the page there's a direct physical connection between thought and hand and pen and page. We are touching our thoughts, tracing them, shaping them into being, almost like a sculptor. I'm talking magic, and that's just what we need to do some serious writing. So if you feel like working on your writing this winter, get yourself a writing notebook--or start a new one special just for 2011. If you feel artsy, decorate it. If you can't be bothered with that, leave it plain. But DO put your name and email address on it, and do write somewhere on the inside cover a dollar amount award for its recovery if lost. Make it have value right from the start. Make it your very own.
Once it's yours, bring it with you everywhere you go (this is why I use small notebooks; they can slip right into whatever bag I'm carrying). When you see something gorgeous or weird or funny or frightening or infuriating, write it down in your book. When you dream up a question, write it down. When your kid says something funny, write it down. When you overhear two women talking at the coffee shop about the bachelorette party they went to, write down a snippet of their dialogue. Think of everything as raw material. Some of you already do this and have done it for years. If you have never done it, start to. You can use this same notebook for the exercises I'll be posting here or for your own story/poem/essay ideas. Just don't let it become a place where you jot down to-do lists. Never write things like
nail polish remover
in your writing notebook. Let it be special. Make it yours.
I'll meet you back here next Friday with an exercise.
The above photos are by me, processed using greydaystone texture by Kim Klassen.