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The Paw Paw River Journal

Published November 27, 1985

How to be a writer

Since my words have become visible to more people because of this column, some have started asking me how to write. This is joyful because I spent years and years in the classroom making people write whether they wanted to or not. Now people talk to me because they want to know about it. Sometime they confess that for a long time they too have wanted to write, but just did not know how to go about it.

Well, for all of you who have wondered, here are the innermost secrets of a writer’s mind. And with these True Confessions goes a warning: You asked for it!

Wanting to write is a natural urge. We all want to leave something lasting behind… some earthly immortality. This is part of the same urge that makes us have children and continue the generations… something of us to go on, even after we are physically no longer here.

Probably this is the same reason we talk so much, to impress our views on others, and leave the imprint of our mind on theirs. But this is like writing on the wind, unless what we have to say is so important that our words will be remembered and recorded. And most of us will just not have that happen.

Now, I tell my students, and those who ask me how to write, the first order of business is just to WRITE. You cannot learn to write without the physical act of writing. And here is the point most people say, “Oh, oh, this is where I get off… I can’t do that.”

Yes, you can. Get a notebook, a spiral pad, a tablet… anything. Margaret Mitchell wrote “Gone with the Wind” on loose pages and kept the whole thing in a shoe box in the closet.

What I do is called “keeping a journal.” I have done it for years. At present I am on Journal No. 24. What you have to say is not worth preserving? How do you know? Just thing, 100 years from now your family would love to know how you lived your life in the last half of the 20th century. Just think… IMMORTALITY!

What about all of those mistakes you make? Don’t show the journal to anyone. In the years I have been writing, no one (and I mean no one) has ever read a page of my journals unless I deliberately showed it to them. Dear readers, you have all shared some of the pages of my journals by way of this column, but only because I chose to reveal them, and honestly, I rewrote them. No one will know how many words you misspelled until long after you are gone… and you won’t care then.

The beginning writer is often pleasantly surprised to find that writing is good therapy. You can say what you want to in your journal, and say it any old way you wish. Just don’t leave it lying around, unless you can trust people. One time one of my senior students lost her journal. She was upset when the finder started mailing it back to her a few pages at a time, anonymously.

Regularity is important. Try to write some every day, in the same place, and at the same time. Morning is my best time for writing. “Ha,” you say, “I should have the luxury of a free morning!” Well, in a sense, I paid some of my dues by getting up early all of those years and hitting the job. I wrote then whenever I had a little time. Don’t use the “no time” excuse with me… I know all about it, having used it myself.

Be honest! You find time to do the things you really want to do. And if you cannot find the time to write, probably you do not want to do it enough to make the time. These may be harsh words, but anything you really want is not guaranteed to come easily.

Some of you are probably already writers. Ever keep a diary? Ever keep a weather log? A diary is a record of what has happened to you. A journal is a record of how you feel about what has happened to you. Sometimes my journal has been just a diary for days at a stretch… then comes an idea and I am on a roll again. Don’t be afraid to empty your well of creativity. It will fill. I have corresponded with Ray Bradbury, the writer, a few times. He stresses the importance of diving right down into yourself. Bring it out. Empty it. You will fill again.

So don’t ever say, “If only I had a way with words, I would like to write.” Having a way with words is not the secret to becoming a writer. The real way is just to WRITE. When you have a writing block, copy in a poem, put in some of your favorite sayings. When you don’t feel like writing, write anyway. Say something. Record the weather, an argument you had with a loved one, the problem you would like to solve. Just write.

Writing is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. For all the drudgery that goes into it, comes that time when I am on a roll, and my mind goes faster than my fingers can type… it is all worthwhile.

And then some day, after you have been at it for a while, someone will see you with your journal. They will say, “What is that you are doing?”

And you answer, “This is my journal. I am writing.”

And they go, “Good grief! I wish I could do that,” and there you are! You are a writer.


Coloma Public

Library news

View entries in the Art for a Cause competition in the Watervliet Library Community Room, Saturday Feb. 11 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. The art entries were created by youth who have experienced Foster Care.

Interactive story times for toddlers and pre-K age children with Miss Sara are on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.

The public is invited to join the Book Club every other Thursday in the Community Room. Next meeting is Feb. 16 at 4 p.m. The selected title is The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray.

School-age children are invited for 15-minute individual literacy sessions with certified therapy dogs, Margaret and Pailey. Next session is Wednesday, Feb. 8 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Pre-registration is preferred, but walk-ins are accommodated when possible.

Meet caregivers and new friends in the library’s monthly networking group for homeschooling families. Next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 16 at 12 p.m.


Hartford Public

Library news

The next program of “Family Links” at Hartford Library is Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 11 a.m. “Family Links” is a program for children, birth through 5 years and a parent. It is a wonderful storytime and includes a craft and playtime activities. The program is every second and fourth Wednesday at 11 a.m. and is always free.

The library will be decorating “Valentine Cookies” on Tuesday, Feb. 14 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Let the library know if your child will be attending so that they have enough heart cookies available for decoration.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15 will be their “Lego Build and Craft Day” from 2 to 4 p.m. Join to build a Lego creation and receive a prize. There will also be a craft.

The West Michigan Lego Users Group will be displaying a “New Lego City with Trains” at the library meeting room from Monday, Feb. 21 through Saturday Feb. 25 during library hours. During that week the library is sponsoring a Lego Competition every day from 4 to 5 p.m. Build a Lego creation in order to enter for a Lego prize. The more Lego creation you build, the more times you can enter the Lego prize drawing.

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