By Esther Hofknecht Curtis
The best way to learn something is to look at the person you consider a master. My favorite fiction author is Stephen King. Sure, he’s diabolical, but far as I’m concerned, no other author develops characters with such tangible authenticity. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he provides advice for would-be writers. (It’s a great book, too, because it features a riotously funny autobiographical preface.) He wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Reading allows us to become aware of our own ignorance as writers, perhaps seeing for the first time our misunderstanding or misuse of words or phrases, while getting exposure to the styles of other authors. Writing is our practice.
In 2011, wanting to work on my writing, I took King’s advice. I read a book each week for a year and blogged about it. I wrote a description of the book and my thoughts about the style or the plot elements within them. If I was delayed, friends would ask why, and I got right back on track. Within a year, I had read 52 books, broadened my mind, and become acclimated to writing according to a schedule.
Not wanting to stop, I took on a project in 2011 called My Ten Bucks. I knew if I ever wanted to write for a living, I’d have to diversify my skills, so I decided to develop my interview style. I set up and conducted interviews with nonprofit directors at Delaware’s local charities to gain an understanding of how they worked to stretch a dollar. My interview style was rough at first but I improved with each one. I always wrote too much, but I listened to my blog followers and eventually dedicated more time to editing. To say it was difficult to cut my own writing would be a gross understatement, but King says, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Editing hurts.
(Check out www.mytenbucks.blogspot.com to see my progress for yourself.)
In 2013, I got the opportunity of a lifetime: to write an editorial piece for a newspaper called Our Independence, published by a Delaware nonprofit. For two and a half years I covered topics such as conflict resolution, finding resources, and overcoming malaise during unemployment (ironically, that one was published the same month I was laid off). Unfortunately, when the paper went under in 2015, I was a full time student in addition to my marketing job, and I was doing more writing than ever. I had unleashed my own inner beast.
All of these writing projects surprised me, because they unsheathed major pieces of my own persona, made me more aware of my own values, and ultimately, helped me cultivate paths to my professional career. And these are only the benefits I know of, at this moment.
Writing has benefits that are too numerable to name, but I spent some time thinking about why it benefits me, and how it could benefit you.
1. Writing is exploratory. Writing allows us to form a complete idea, talk about a subject we think is important, and gain a better understanding of the world around us. In order to finalize a thought or a paragraph, we may need to engage with others or do research. Unless you know it all (and you don’t), you have to look at other sources to ensure you’ve got your facts straight. (This is why we have to write term papers to pass our college courses.)
2. Writing is therapeutic. It’s a sure-fire way to vent when others stop listening. Writing out our frustrations can decrease our stress level, increase our ability to cope, and get our brains free of the mess of daily life. It’s a way to say the things you really want to but can’t, or probably shouldn’t.
3. Writing helps record our thoughts or ideas at one particular moment in a solid, definitive form. When I look back at my blog posts from 2010–2011, I can see my current style of writing emerging in its infant form. If I look at the journals I kept when I was pregnant with my first child, I can see my formerly “normal” life, and cringe at my own ignorance of the world.
4. Writing makes us deal with our emotional attachments and overcome them. If you’re smart, you’ll ask someone to critique your work. Their criticism can feel harsh, but by forcing yourself to rise above the emotions and think about the content, you can usually find a happy medium between what you feel you should include and what is being suggested. Sharing your writing with others helps you learn how to take advice, build confidence in yourself, and become resilient in your craft.
5. Writing is artistic and personal. It develops over time and becomes an extension of your personality. It can be ornate or simple. Perhaps my style may mimic that of another writer, but at its core, it’s all me.
Everyone has the potential to write. Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
Get a computer, writing pad, or journal, and get the first scary moment out of the way. (The topic could be anything: pit bulls, cremation, jury duty, telephones, emotions, the color blue… whatever. I think my first non-fiction topic was an R.E.M. song review.) Write what you think or feel. Set a time every day to do this and add it to your routine. You will not be sorry.
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