Progress Report: A Year of Writing Lessons Learned

einstein-imagination-book-10hj8ivLast summer I made my writing a priority. I started this blog, hired a writing coach, and guarded a few hours each morning to practice my craft. It has paid off immensely. Not only did I get an article published in The Christian Century, but I have grown and learned more than I ever thought possible. Most significantly, I have come to recognize writing as the passion I need to pursue—it’s the one thing in my life I can’t NOT do. Acknowledging this call to write has been transformative.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about writing over this past, dedicated, year:

  • Join a writing group, attend a workshop, hire a writing coach—do something to receive honest feedback and constructive criticism. It’s the ONLY way you’ll learn and grow as a writer. I recommend my writing coach, Christine Hemp, whom I affectionately call The Beast, Madame Bossypants, or my personal Grammar SNOOT. Working with Christine has been phenomenal. She is a poet, teacher, coach and spiritual director all rolled into one. I’m also quite fond of the fact that she’s a faithful Episcopalian. In other words, she gets me. Check out her website here.
  • If you’re having trouble getting started, begin with a story you care about—in my case, (as a preacher) something with a theological problem within it.
  • Also…if you’re having trouble getting started, focus on something really specific—a moment, a scene, an experience—and branch out from there.
  • I have a tendency to stop short—to think I am finished before I really am. Give your writing space to breathe. Don’t quit too soon. Don’t go for the quick, easy ending—push yourself further, to discover what you’re really writing about.
  • Use specific, concrete, language—avoid clichés and tired, abstract, “churchy” language—paint a picture for the reader.
  • Write as if no one—absolutely no one (especially the person you are writing about)— is looking over your shoulder. You can always edit later. First, you must discover your truth.
  • Transitions matter. Pay attention to them. Guide your reader from one paragraph to the next. Offer clarity—it’s the polite thing to do.
  • Lay (transitive verb: receives and object) Lie (intransitive verb: never receives an object.) I lay the book on the table. I lie in the sun all the time. Remember this!! It will curl the teeth of your Grammar SNOOT if you get it wrong.
  • “We can go months, even years, without ever being crucially spoken to.” Stephen Dunn. Write words that are crucial. Write words that matter. Venture into the wilderness of humanity.
  • “End with an image and don’t explain.”  Stanley Kunitz
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