By: Marilyn L. Davis
“I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me. I apply many of the things I learned in school, but I’ve forgotten most. Random snippets of the rules come back to me, at times, but my mind will eventually eradicate them all, relearn them, and reinvent them.” Lee Gutkind
Learning: Life and Writing Lessons
This week, I’ll celebrate 27 years of abstinence-based recovery, so remembering and reflecting are appropriate for this time of year. Bear with me. I also intend to write something that might prompt you to remember and reflect as well. Those two processes – remembering and reflecting, can each help you with your narrative or creative nonfiction writing.
About a year ago, Scott Biddulph
asked me to write a few pieces for Two Drops of Ink. I was excited because writing about writing interested me, but I was apprehensive because I wasn’t sure if I could add anything worthwhile to the information already out there. He encouraged me, and I started writing about creative nonfiction, planning, prompting and processing to create better posts.
Some writers think that writing non-fiction is limited to facts, places, and people. However, if you limit yourself to just those aspects of the topic, there’s not a lot of room for creativity for the writer and no compelling interest for the reader. If we stay trapped in just those components, we will end up with a flat piece that no one wants to read. I know that some of my earlier articles here fall into that category – just the facts, places and people. I wrote them like that because I was afraid to insert me into them, and I know that’s a common fear of writers. Even without fear, we wonder how much of our feelings, impressions, and insights to interject without coming across as egotistical, boring, or too revealing.
But it is thoughts, feelings, experiences, and ideas that make creative non-fiction come alive.
They each give our articles and blogs information that everyone can relate to, and that’s what translates into loyal readers. We can also forget that it’s creative non-fiction. It’s taking those facts, places and people and making them accessible to others, or making something interesting to a reader who didn’t know they had any interest until we inserted a story or example that made the lesson universal.
Begin at the Beginning, Even if You Create It
“We write what we know” seems obvious, but that is where we begin.
If you’re an expert in something, qualify it for me. Not just with letters behind your name, but tell me your process, your struggles, and your accomplishments – and then how you felt during each stage of that process.
I’m not talking about a blow-by-blow, long-winded narrative though. For instance, think about a mechanical engineer who worked on a space shuttle mission. There’s room for a human interest story to accompany an article on advancements in space travel and how those advancements translate into everyday conveniences for the rest of us, all without once describing the function of space travel.
What if the writer takes us back to that moment when the space shuttle exploded and we all felt a sense of sadness and dismay? We might understand why our mechanical engineer created something that we use daily.
- Did that calamity prompt our engineer to design something better?
- Did he feel guilt, and so improved something that today makes our lives easier?
- Did he get angry because his cautioning words went unheard?
Now we understand his motives
– perhaps it was his guilt or questioning his contribution to the project, or a firm resolve never to be in that situation again.
We can all relate to those incentives for change and improving something, whether we understand mechanical engineering or not.
I’m like many of you; I understand the computer enough to write. I have a trusted computer expert to fix the problems, and I’ve used his services for over twenty years. Not only does he fix the problems, but he also gives me great analogies or metaphors for what happened. When I had RAM issues, he commented that my desk was always clear and organized. I might have a cup of coffee and one or two reference books on one edge of the desk, but that my usual method of writing was organized and uncluttered.
I gave him that look that we all do when someone states the obvious – waiting anxiously for anything we don’t already know. He asked me if I could write if my desk had:
- All my references books stacked up on it
- My dog’s leash because she will have to go out during my writing
- Several snacks in case I got hungry
- My laundry in a pile as a reminder to start it when I take a break from writing
I laughed and said that no, all that would be distracting, and would slow down my process for writing. He then told me that I had an overly messy, disorganized, jumbled RAM “desk” and that I used RAM in a cluttered, messy manner. Although the RAM was a big desktop, I slowed down its effectiveness with all the “might needs.” I had large files for images, drafts of pieces, sites to visit, and several browsers open to find links for information for my articles. Then I’d spend time navigating between an article found on Chrome versus one found on Firefox, comparing them to see which was most informative. I’d have eight or ten Word documents available, too. Then compounding the situation, I’d have fifteen tabs with sites.
In other words, just too much stuff working at any given time. My computer was messy when I wrote and I was expecting my computer to run too much at one time. I’m a woman who thinks anything beyond adding and subtracting for a checkbook is too much math, but I was overloading my computer’s ability to process, much like advanced math is for me. He then told me the facts – do this, do that: start bookmarking sites and files, and that when I need something, it was in the file cabinet or drawers of the desk – those hard drives or history, or searches.
He made sense; it wasn’t like I had to walk somewhere to retrieve them. Either search or history told me where the information was, and if I didn’t need it, then it was filed and ready for another time. Now, I’m organized at my virtual desk, too
First Start Writing What You Know
With so many blogs today, it’s hard to imagine that anyone needs another post or a how-to, but when you write from your point of reference, it may mean that someone understands a topic from an entirely different perspective – yours.
When we give people new and value-added information, we’ve done our job as a writer, provided the blog or article is well-written. I also write a blog about addiction and recovery,
as well as writing about writing at Two Drops of Ink
. Both of these represent the subjects I’m passionate about but seem totally unrelated on the surface.
However, if I incorporate recovery stories into my writing articles, they become intertwined topics.
If you aren’t sure whether you’re ready to give advice, suggestions or direction for your subjects of interest, but want still want to start a blog or site, then your content might be prompted by what you’re reading. So, what grabbed your attention today?
- Did that information enrage or engage you?
- Do you share the article’s perspective?
- Can you write about a counter-point?
- Do you have more current information?
- Can you expand on the information?
- Could you write about the subject better?
- Is the article or blog true from your perspective?
- What do you know about the issue from an insider’s view?
Questions bubbling in your brain are the same ones that are percolating in a reader’s mind.
With all of the personal blogs today, you have an opportunity to create interesting pieces that others will find enjoyable, make someone think, or start a discussion on the merits of the information.We hope that you’ll use Two Drops of Ink
for specific writing topics whether it for structure, syntax, or sentences.
We also believe that you’ll find encouraging articles about finding your voice, tone and working to improve as a writer. As I write this piece, I’m surprised that the majority of it is giving examples that touch on underlying emotions, thoughts and ideas and less on facts. Is it different writing than a year ago? Yes. Is it improved writing? In many ways, yes, because I think I’m paying more attention to the creative side of blogging. Is it helpful and interesting? I’ll leave that up to you. I expect I’ll know from shares and comments, and those always help me improve.
Is it time to go back and personalize your older posts by doing some reflective writing, and seeing where you can interject your personality and style into your next post?
And who knows, you could be this person, “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a verb in the past tense.” James Joyce
I can tell you now that I would read your article and learn from you.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing