Alien. Halloween. Friday the 13th. Nightmare on Elm Street. Saw. And, my favorite, The Shining.
Fear is so awesome in movies because it plays on your anticipation. You fear the unknown, thus your mind makes what you are anticipating so much worse than it really is.
That's what made for an interesting e-mail I received from a student I instructed last week. Her biggest fear wasn't Bruce the Shark from Jaws or the Predator.
No, of all things, it was writing. Sure, she had copy written for the news in the past, but had never really put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) for longer, explanatory pieces. In fact, she said it was her 'weakest link', and her greatest fear was doing it wrong. After considering her words, I gave her the following advice. I hope it helps those of you who might be afraid of communicating through writing, or in any other medium.
Fear. Wow. That’s a tough one. I can understand that you want to do your best and impress everyone by not getting it ‘wrong’.
But, let me ask you … Were you born knowing how to walk? Probably not, right? I mean, if you were like me, you were but a wee helpless baby who couldn’t move. That’s OK. Everyone expects you to start there
When you took your first steps, did you ever fall over? I bet you did, but family helped pick you up and get you to try again. And try you did. Having raised two sons, believe me, I couldn’t stop them.
I guess the moral of the story is this, if you want to learn how to write, there is no substitute to trying, failing and trying again.
I assume you are a good typist. If not, pen or pencil and paper will work. Every day, set aside half an hour and write. About your day. About the annoying person who cut you off in traffic. About your dog. About what you had for dinner, and how you made it. About the school you attended as a kid or about your first crush in high school.
Basically, you are learning how to tell a story in written form. At the end of 30 minutes, put your pen down, save your document, whatever, and then walk away.
The next day, pick it up and read it. What was ‘wrong’ with it? What was ‘right’ with it? Start writing again. Add to your observations. Take it in a completely different way.
Before long, you will start getting a feel for how the words are generated in your brain. You will get an idea of how you tell a story and how you can communicate with others.
Keep in mind when it comes to writing that there are two kinds of writers – painters and sculptors.
Painters take the time to painstakingly consider every single word they put to paper, the same way an artist takes the time to consider every brush stroke. Are you a painter? Do you worry about putting the wrong mark in the wrong place?
Sculptors tend to throw a lot of words out and hope to chisel something from the mass of material. Me, I am a sculptor. I have to keep trying until I get something out of it. The whole idea that communication is 1% inspiration and 99% editing.
Is either style better? Nope. Just do it your way, and you will enjoy it.
Before you know it, writing will be easy. You may even pick up a new hobby – journaling. If you do it hand-written, there are plenty of blank essay books you can pick up that you will treasure for years.
One magazine I used to subscribe to is Writer’s Digest. While it was geared toward professional writers, there are a lot of exercises to get you writing. One I love is when they give you a photo and you have to write a paragraph describing what’s going on in it. Be crazy. Get creative. The more you use the language, the more you can do with it.
I hope this helps…
Musings from a member of the Professional Order of English Majors…Tom Iovino