Monday, March 3, 2014


I guess I take writing for granted. But today, a colleague asked me about it. She is eager to start writing, but doesn't know where to begin. I said, "You can start a blog in 10 minutes," but also went on to talk with her about what she wanted to write, and why.

What is writing, anyway? There is, of course, the physical act of stringing together words. We all learn this to get through school. I remember plenty of high school papers that I scratched out in longhand on the night before they were due after a cursory trip to the public library. Yes, this was before the Internet made research something you can do on your phone during dinner in a restaurant.

Writing can be a letter, where you are reaching out to a friend or loved one, or a beloved friend, when you use the good stationery and the nice pen you got for a graduation gift. You think about what you want the person to feel when he or she reads your note. It can be a sentence added to the preprinted words of a Hallmark greeting card or 17 pages of thoughts and feelings. If it's in longhand, chances are you're not going to be doing much editing, so it has to be stream of consciousness.

What about poetry? So few people actually write it and very few read it, but there are always a couple in the New Yorker. The most popular form of poetry these days is probably song lyrics, or perhaps advertising jingles. I've always thought that poems are for people who want to express something very specific and important who also want to struggle with the process to refine their writing into a polished gem. Some are more shiny and multifaceted than others, of course.

I wrote in 6 x 9 inch steno pads when I was a teenager, and a lot of my nearly illegible scratches were outrage at haircuts or sometimes, attempts at verse. I produced a batch of perfectly good songs when I was 16 to 19 or so, and even recorded some on tape, so they live on. I still have the notebooks, too. And--I still carry a small wire-bound notebook to this day, just in case I feel inspiration.

There's the writing we do for our jobs. If you're a technical writer, like me, you spend your day producing things that may not be of great significance to you personally, but they can be very interesting and complex. In this case, you want to be clear and helpful to your readers, but not convey any of your own personality. Folks aren't consulting online help to be entertained.

What inspires you? My thing for the last 22 years has been a weekly automotive review column. It's an easy process. On Monday, the latest test car arrives. On the weekend, I write the first draft of a story on the car two weeks previous, polishing the draft the next week while yet another new model takes its place in my driveway. It's routine, made meaningful by the variations in the cars. But after more than 1,000 articles, it is not difficult.

This blog is another example of writing. Although I started it in 2007, it wasn't until 2011 that I got serious, and wrote a blog a day for that entire year as an exercise. If you're reading this, you're in it--go look at the wonderful variety of subjects I covered in that fateful year. But things have tapered off, especially since I stopped running my car column in the blog (it's online plenty of other places).

It feels good to write. If sending a letter is meant for my close people, then a blog post or its more common cousin, the Facebook post, is meant for anyone and everyone. When you place your ideas and feelings into a post, it's like a message in a bottle sent from a desert island. While not craving rescue, I'm longing for some kind of connection. And, what I post will live forever, or at least as long as the powers at Google feel like saving it on their server.

You can get a blog from Google for free, and there are other places, too. So if you're hesitating to write, don't let the tool stop you. Just open a page and start typing. The bad first draft is a great pressure reliever. Get it down, then play with it. Cut things, move them around. Change adjectives. Say it more clearly. Use an interesting example. Thrown in similes and metaphors. I compare editing to trimming pots at the pottery studio. It's what makes it finished, and can be very meditative. Then, start another.

Now, you're a writer.

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