Examining the Writer's Craft

Writing is like...a diet

Imagine starting a diet with a goal of losing twenty pounds, and saying, "I'll stick to my diet one day a week."

Imagine resolving to run a marathon and saying, "I'll train by running once a week."

Neither the dieter nor the marathoner is likely to be very successful. The same is true of writing. If you want to make progress as a writer, writing consistently is the key. This usually means putting a dedicated slot into the day, at least four or five days out of the week. Even if it's a half hour from 10:00 to 10:30 p.m., if you're doing it consistently, you'll make progress, both in terms of quantity of material produced, and in terms of improving your ability to write effectively.

The Writer's Nursing Home

Much writing tends toward nursing home mashed potato blandness not because the authors are dull or unimaginative, but rather because they fail to reflect on their word choices. Most of us are armed with legions of colorful and appropriate word choices, but we leave them in our mind's attic and persist in trotting out the convenient and commonplace because...it's easier. Mind you, words needn't be monstrous in size nor exotic in origin to infuse one's prose with a tad more octane. What it requires is 1) reflecting on what has been written; 2) making more vivid, colorful and appropriate word choices; and 3) THEN publishing.

For instance, the preceding paragraph is an example. Here are some words that almost everyone knows, but which we often fail to use due to our lack of reflection: tends, blandness, reflect, armed, legions, persist, commonplace, monstrous, exotic, origin, infuse, prose, tad, octane. 

Much writing that I see looks more like this version of the same paragraph:

A lot of writing is boring. It's not because the authors are dumb, but because they don't think about the words they use. Most of us know lots of cool words, but we don't use them because it's easier not to think about it. Words don't have to be big and complicated to make one's writing more exciting. What it requires is 1) thinking about what has been written; 2) making better word choices; and 3) THEN publishing.

Now one could argue that both say essentially the same thing; yet, what makes writing memorable for a reader is when he or she encounters something unusual: A word or phrase that really pops! A unique voice! The second example holds nothing memorable. When we write in a way that shakes our reader to attention, we begin moving away from pedestrian prose and toward higher ground.

An Odd Writing Outing - Chicago Style

Odd Chicago weekend. Two-day signing at the Rosemont Convention Center. Saturday, sold about 30 books. Then I must have offended some Celtic deity, for Saturday night, I pulled up on a side street behind my daughter's downtown apartment, ran some groceries up to the 18th floor and put them in her refrigerator, came back down, and found that my car was gone. After a visit to the police station, I discovered the seedy world of the Wacker Street impound lot. Then, Sunday, I didn't sell a single book! But I DID get to stay with my amazing daughter, Haley Vick, and I got an interesting story out of it, albeit an expensive one.

Still, my daughter felt bad about the incident, so I explained to her that I really didn't feel upset about it for very long. Here's my frowning chronology: I frowned a lot in the first 20 minutes; I frowned slightly less on my cab ride to the police station; I frowned a little more when the police told me I was on the wrong side of downtown; I started smiling a little while I was running five city blocks through Chicago at 8 p.m. trying to hail a cab so far from downtown; I frowned much less when the finally-encountered cab driver seemed like such a nice guy; I smiled a bit when we went underneath the downtown area to a seedy impound lot, because even though it looked like a place where criminals came to dump bodies, it seemed like I was closing in on my destination; I smiled a lot while waiting to have the paperwork processed; I frowned a bit when the total bill was presented; I smiled a lot when I finally got into my vehicle; I smiled even more when the guard at the impound lot said that I could use the porta-john near the gate, because I was at critical mass; I smiled a little as I tried to find my way back to the upper world; I frowned somewhat as I sped along for miles on a maze of highways underneath Chicago's streets; I smiled broadly when I randomly chose a ramp upon which to exit to the upper world and somehow found myself half a block from Haley Vick's apartment; and now I smile whenever I tell this silly story.

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Latest comments

24.08 | 10:42

I can soooooo relate to this, Rod. It's my writing day, too. I am laughing at my computer screen! You are so kind and patient with your fam & interruptions.

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07.06 | 21:36

This is my first twitter sign up. I am sure I will be wowed by your intellect. Twitter away.

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04.08 | 17:44

Hi mr rod vick,
Thanks so much for the books and the free book i finished them all, and they were all so good. THANK YOU
jaia

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14.10 | 21:58

You my friend, are blessed! You have put such a positive spin on what could have been a terrible tale. You must have good work yet to do in this world.

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