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One week ago, I got this crazy idea that I should try to write 30 stories in the next 30 days and post them on this website. The rationale was it would give me a routine to get into, it would be something to do, and it would keep me from endlessly scrolling through Twitter, of which no good can ever come.
I had serious doubts I’d actually do it, filing it away with other thoughts such as exercising 5 days a week for six straight months, giving up my 6-cup-a-day coffee addiction/limiting my caffeine intake for an entire month, or spending a few days every week cleaning up the basement until all the old stuff that’s been down there for 20 years has finally been thrown away.
All those things start out with the best of intentions, but the motivation seems to fade quickly. So far in week one, I’ve done what I said I would, writing 9 stories in seven days. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with writing, as even when I was making a living doing it long ago, I didn’t particularly like to write. I did like what I read when I was done, so I was glad I did it.
That’s because the good stories you write have to come from somewhere inside of you. I used to be a sportswriter years ago, and quickly found out that anyone can tell you the score, what the key plays were and who the players were that made them. These days, I’ve counseled several young writers over the years that most people can watch the game you’re covering via television, so telling them about what their eyes already saw is redundant. You have to tell them more.
Jim Valvano once said “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think - spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that's a heck of a day.”
That’s also how you write a heck of a good story. Find an angle that touches someone’s emotions, challenges the way they see things, or causes somebody to smile, thinking “I’ve been there.” My daughter describes the way I write this way: “You’re really good at making people cry.”
It’s not something you can do while watching a ball game, listening to music and munching on a snack all at the same time. It’s actual work, where you have to focus, concentrate, write something, tear it up, then write something again until you get it right. That’s the real reason I’m trying to do this, because in this endless time of house arrest, I find I’m not focusing on anything. The days run together and nothing seems interesting. Not reading another book, not watching another movie, nothing.
As an old song by Styx once said, “I’ve got too much time on my hands.”
I do find myself wishing I had this kind of time decades ago when I wrote for newspapers. As anyone who has written for a larger daily paper will tell you, there was always an earlier edition coming out so you needed to say what you had to say, proof read it once, then hit the submit button so the copy desk can get their turn to read it and get it into that early edition.
Not now. I get an idea, then write something in Microsoft Word, usually in the morning. I will reread it several times and make changes until I’m happy with it. This website is on a hosted server in San Diego, but I also have a server here in my house (doesn’t everybody?) which I’ve set up to be an exact duplicate of the one in San Diego. I post it to the server on my home intranet, read it again, add art, make sure all the formatting is OK, then leave it alone.
That night I read it again, and usually make more changes. Twice this week I deleted a story and started all over again because after having all day to think about it, I came up with a better way to say what I was trying to say. The next morning, I read everything one more time, copy and paste the code into the site on the remote server, then read it again once the post is live. Many times what ends up on the site doesn’t resemble what was originally written, forcing me to admit that if I had spent as much time proofing and challenging what I wrote at the age of 21 as I do now at the age of 63, I might have been a better writer.
Note to younger writers: Don’t wait until you’re 63 to learn this.
Despite all of this reading and challenging, I don’t ever expect it to be perfect, as I am a firm believer that a person cannot completely proof his own work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read over something a dozen times, then right after posting it, my wife texts me saying “you know you spelled a word wrong in the 4th paragraph don’t you?”
I almost think she enjoys doing this. And by “almost think” I really mean “she absolutely looks forward to it.”
Such is life in cellblock 43552 here in Ashburn during the spring of our house arrest. But if you’re looking for something to do these days, I’d recommend you write something. If you’re a young writer, write more and focus more on getting it the way you want it instead of just getting it done. It sounds so simple, but when the rat race gears up again, even the best of us fall into that cycle. Use the time to hone your craft.
As I say far too many times, writer’s write, no matter what else is going on in the world. And no matter how old you are, if you can come up with an idea and write something that makes somebody laugh, makes somebody think or makes somebody cry, you’ve written something really good.
Or as Jim Valvano once said, you’ve had one heck of a day.