By: Frank McKinley
When I got the call that Friday afternoon, the news hit me like a punch in the chest.
“Daddy, Jake’s acting weird. He’s not breathing right. I think he’s dying!”
I was an hour away.
“Call your mom. She’s closer, and you can take him to the vet to see what’s wrong.”
Ten minutes later, my wife called.
Her voice trembled as she choked on her tears.
No useful words came to mind. Shock took over. He was gone – forever – just like that.
“I’m so sorry.”
I wished I was there to hug her. As I drove that hour, home seemed 100,000 miles away.
Grief is cruel.
Shortly after dinner that night, I sat on the porch and stared into the highway.
Usually, I might take my phone outside to fill those potentially boring minutes spent with nature. Now, nothing outside my own world mattered. Social media. Writing. Reading. Being alive. All of it was swallowed up in grief.
I don’t know how long I sat there. I don’t know how many cars passed. But as the minutes crept by, I gradually remembered where I was.
That night I wrote page after page in my journal. I ranted, cried, and begged God for answers. After an hour or so of that, I went to sleep.
When I woke the next morning, I wrote some more. I didn’t share any of my rants with anyone. Once I spilled my guts on paper, I was ready to share my story with the world.
Jake was our loyal best friend for over 5 years. He taught us a lot, like how to love others, even when life is hard. No matter how great or rotten my day was, he greeted me with a smile and a furiously wagging tail.
Now let’s see what this experience can teach us about our writing.
Write every day if you can.
You eat and sleep every day. Why not write?
You make time for what’s important to you. If you’re not writing every day, it’s not important enough.
Sure, it’s hard work. The words don’t flow like water from my fingers every morning. Sometimes I mumble into my journal before anything makes sense. Other times, the mechanical act of starting encourages me to fill the page, and I end up with something that makes sense, and I can feel proud of writing every day.
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m just encouraging you to find the fun in writing and let that motivate you. Set a time to play on paper. Then you’ll look forward to it as an adventure instead of a homework assignment given by a tyrannical English teacher.
Keep a journal.
Your journal is your safe place.
You need somewhere to rant, cuss, and spit without hurting anyone. You need space to explore your thoughts and feelings while they’re raw. Your journal is a potter’s wheel where you take that mass of words and shape it into something beautiful.
Then you can share it with the world.
Writing helps you articulate your ideas.
Job seekers are told to write an elevator speech.
If you find yourself on the elevator with the CEO or a hot potential client, you can clearly share what you do in less than 30 seconds.
Is your writing clear enough? Share it with a friend and ask her to tell you what you wrote. Is her impression the one you intended? If not, revise it, so it’s crystal clear.
If you don’t have any friends available, wait a few hours or days and read your own words. Do they make sense to you now? Do they evoke the emotions you want your reader to experience? Will they grab her attention, change her mind, or move her to take some action?
Have a purpose in mind before you write, and you’ll find it shines through in your words.
If your writing sounds academic, you’re doing it wrong.
People want to read stuff that sounds like a conversation over coffee, beer, or your favorite beverage. It should be warm, friendly, and inviting. And it should leave your reader better than it found her.
An excellent way to tell if your writing is conversational is to read it out loud. If you have a robot reader like the ones on most smartphones, you can also catch the words you left out.
You might even listen to your prose without looking at the words. If it sounds human, share it.
Readers are people like you.
Writing in public is half marketing, half art.
The marketing half leads you to obsess over stars like how many people read your post. It suggests you write clickbait headlines that raise those stats. And of course, you have to follow the trends if you want anyone to notice you.
That’s a lie.
We want your story. How did you feel when your dog died? What did you learn when you wrote your first novel? How did it go when you went skydiving for your fiftieth birthday?
You stand out by sharing what’s unique to you. There are enough trend riders already.
Be useful instead. Give us what you’ve got, not what you’ve copied.
Life is messy. There’s not a one size fits all map. That awesome formula might work for some, but it’s not for everyone.
That’s what makes it art.
Find the people you can serve well. What do they want? Stories? Poems? Nonfiction essays?
Write for them. Fit your message to the format that fits them. That’s a compromise you can live with every time.
And it will make you a better, more visible writer.
You’ll have painful experiences. How can you use them to improve your own and others’ lives?
It’s your calling. Use your words to answer the call. Your readers are waiting.