While looking for my annotated bibliography, I stumbled upon this essay, my final paper for Prose Style. I don't remember the prompt, but I am sure it had something to do with what we thought were the most important rules of writing. I turned it a little over a year ago and thought I would share it now. I broke up the paragraphs a little more to make it easier to read in the blog format:
December 9, 2008
Look, then, into thine heart, and write!
Yes, into Life's deep stream!
All forms of sorrow and delight,
All solemn Voices of the Night,
That can soothe thee, or affright, —
Be these henceforth thy theme.
—final stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Voices Of The Night—Prelude"
Looking into mine heart
Writing begins with a pace. Back and forth, back and forth; if I am not literally walking in circles, then I am sitting in front of my computer, thinking I should be doing something besides tapping the resident yellow pad of paper with a twice-sharpened pencil. I am frustrated because the ideas nor the writing are coming easily; even with my journalism training and my vast experience with working against deadlines, it may still take hours upon hours of writing drafts of anything remotely connected to the topic before my prose takes shape. I can write all day and not write one decent sentence.
At this point in the process, my sentences are sad, and I fear will this piece will end badly. I envy many of my fellow writers, those who are patient. Ideas come to those who wait for them. Those writers do not write until they have something to say. They sit in their chair and let inspiration hit them upside the head, and then, upon seeing stars, they write. I do not like waiting. I like finding ideas; around handle bars of bicycles, hiding behind corners of magazine pages, or in a glance out the car window. Then, upon catching it, I scribble it down into place and so hold it there until I am able to develop it more fully.
Writing is the art of ignoring time and learning patience. It also composed of three Golden Rules, the first being the practice of keeping my worst enemies close to me. I have been writing since grade school, and whenever I’m feeling particularly dry on ideas, I go to my closet, where there are many boxes. A few are labeled accordingly for high school memories, and others indicate grade school lies beneath, but I opt for the one box labeled ‘Writings.’ Inside is years upon years of drafts: essays I had written for school assignments, descriptions of people and places on loose sheets of paper, short stories, old clips, inspired ideas on scraps torn from an unsuspecting source, and my many attempts at poetry.
It is humbling to see how horrible your best writing used to be, and yet I know how proud I was of it at the time. I wonder momentarily if I will look back on my writing now, the same work I admire with mother's eyes, and shake my head in despair. Julie, I think, you were so young. The box serves as a reminder to never, never, never stop writing; only constant vigilance and the belief that, if I were to ever cease, my work would descend into metaphorical madness and be thrust into the cardboard darkness, keeps my hand moving.
The second Golden Rule of becoming a better writer is learning not to take rejection personally. Rejection does not just mean having a publication cross your “little wonder” off their ‘To Publish’ list at present. It also means learning to take rejection of ideas or words, and accepting criticism from others. I myself, although a mostly tough-skinned journalist, felt the sting recently when my thirteen-year-old sister, another aspiring writer, read a piece I gave to my father to critique and called me up to share her comments. To say I was not amused is an understatement. My father turned a deaf ear to my complaints and told me to think about what she said before I became critical.
Time did, eventually, show me that she made a few solid assessments, and I was forced to admit even a person without formal training is able to recognize faults in another’s work. Recognition of faults, a sub-category of Golden Rule number two, is necessary to any writer who wishes to improve, because having a critical eye towards one’s own work will save much heartache and many postage stamps in the years to come.
To advance in one's writing style, it is important to sample the goods. It is not possible to write well if one does not read well. The mind imitates what it sees and picks up on certain turns and phrases, unaware perhaps of how words coil themselves around the mind. The third Golden Rule, therefore, is to read, and to always be reading. The first place to start is newspapers, and then onto magazines and journals, before delving deeper into books. Writers should keep a diverse reading palate if they are to improve.
In the spirit of high school guidance counselors everywhere, it is important to be well-rounded in one’s reading tastes. Prose and poetry are necessary elements for any writer, because they both use words differently, and so I read when I do not write, and take notes and underline favorite passages, only to see another writer emerging from me when I later sit down to collect myself and my thoughts.
And so I compose myself, and shake off my self-doubts. It’s time to write, I think. I crack my knuckles before getting back to my work, and enjoy the rhythmic clicks of my fingers hitting the keys. Something I had written out earlier has caught my eye, and I am beginning to smile as I write more and more, taking sheer pleasure from being able to express myself semi-coherently.
It’s going to be okay, I think, this piece will be just fine. I feel like I have successfully navigated through the wrecking yard; I have scrapped my writing for parts and found success. I will keep the other writing for another day, but now I am focused. I will most likely not leave the area for hours, but I do not mind because I see now how my piece will end—not with whimper, but a bang.