Monthly Archives: March 2015

Some Things I’ve Learned Along the Way to Becoming a Writer (That Have Little or Nothing to do with Writing)

Writing is a craft and art. But, I’ve learned a few things outside of writing that has improved my writing. In no particular order they are:

Years ago, I reached a plateau in my martial arts. Others were being promoted, but I was being passed over. I studied my forms, worked on my punches, kicks and throws, but my master instructor passed me over again.

There was another martial artist; I secretly called him Crazy John, who would work for hours on one tiny move. Once he mastered that, he would go on to another small move. It took him days to get through a 25-step kata (memorized stylized fighting form). I laughed at him behind his back for his obsession with details.

As I was watching him work out one day and chuckling to myself at his detail work, the master instructor called to John. He told him to prepare for his next test. I didn’t want to look directly at the master. I didn’t want him to know how badly I wanted to try out for my next belt. He said nothing to me.

As I watched John return to his workout with a satisfied look on his face, I thought, Maybe John is not crazy. Maybe it’s me.

I immediately began to work on small details found in every move. Shortly after that, my master instructor asked me to test.

My lesson was this. If crazy people are advancing at something you want to do, watch them. They may be doing something right. If you think they are, emulate them.

After that, anytime I had difficulty with martial arts, I went back to basics, breaking the moves down to their most elemental parts.

Another lesson I learned from martial arts is this: There was one kick called a tornado kick in my school. It is a leaping kick that includes a 360-degree spin. I couldn’t do it. No matter how I tried, it just wouldn’t come. I decided to work on the kick every Saturday for one hour.

I worked on the tornado for two years. In the back of my head, I began to believe it was physically impossible for me to do this particular kick. Even though I kept working, I had no expectation of being able to do it.

On Saturday, I was stretching before working on the impossible kick. One of our young champions came out of the dressing room and in my peripheral vision, walked up to the bag and executed a perfect tornado. His foot slapped the bag like he’d hit it with a bat. The bag jumped on its chain, flying wildly away from him.

Something in me said, “Oh, that’s how you do that.”

After the champion was through warming up, I went to the bag. With a clear visualization of the kick in my mind, I executed it perfectly. There was a resounding slap, and the bag jolted away from me. As I went back to my ready position, everyone in the gym applauded.

I incorporated visualizing my techniques in my learning.

These influenced my writing by telling me (1.) to go to basics anytime I have difficulty and (2.) visualize myself succeeding.

More on life’s lessons later.

 

On Being Criticized

“I can’t stand it when I see a comma misused.”

“If a writer changes POV too often, I just stop reading.”

“See, he repeated this word he used five pages ago.”

“That’s okay, many new writers make this common mistake, and we can fix it.”

Let’s face it. There are some readers who search intently for any error in writing and throw up their hands when they find one. They stop reading.

The first time I met this phenomenon, I was making a presentation. A man in the group said under his breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear, he misspelled X. If he doesn’t care enough to check his spelling, I don’t care to stay. He picked up his notebook and left.

While anyone can stand to lose a reader now and again,  this man was important to my presentation being adopted by the group. Luckily, the group liked the presentation enough to adopt my position. But he taught me an important lesson. While I was not stressed out over a ‘small spelling error,’ he was. I concluded that some people are so strong in their opinions about errors they stop reading when they find one. I as a speaker and author had to pay enough attention so that I didn’t lose readers because of mistakes.

After that, I began working on learning my errors and correcting them. When I finally got to write novels, I discovered an entirely new set of rules that stood between successful writing and me.

When my secretary found out what I was doing, she told me I had about twenty-five words I consistently misspelled. She had made a list of them for me. I was spelling them as I pronounced them. With my regional accent, that didn’t work. I posted the list in front of me. After a few weeks, I could spell those words correctly.

I actually like to learn from computer programs. When my computer highlights a misspelled word, it places a red line underneath. I can click on the word and the correct spelling pops up. I’ve discovered that the computer is neutral in its corrections. It doesn’t curl its lip and look at me with disdain while saying, “You don’t know how to spell that?”

I learn better, when a problem is pointed out to me in a nonjudgmental way. If there is a hint of disapproval, I react more to that than trying to change.

As computers progressed and began providing grammar checkers, my writing improved. I still have readers and use an editor, but I prefer the soft corrections from uncritical computers to hypercritical humans, no matter how much they believe they are helping me by being supercilious.

I am in a critique group as well. I carefully selected this group to be a no-holds-barred group where members feel safe to critique and be critiqued. The important distinction for this group is that the critique is focused on the writing and never the writer.