I love Oxymorons.
They fascinate me. Sometimes they are really funny, sometimes serious and often thought provoking. Here is a brilliant one I came across recently in our daily newspaper. It speaks volumes to writers.
Writers take note: procrastination will kill your writing career.
Stop dithering and get on with it.
Go on – stop wasting time here and get on with your writing.
- Oxymorons – an article I wrote some time ago explaining what they are, with some examples.
Good writing: and stop putting it off.
My home is situated on five acres (2 hectares) on the outskirts of a country town in South Australia. We have a small orchard, about two acres of bushland scrub and the remainder is open grassland. Many years ago it was used for grazing sheep.
We used to have five sheep, but they had an accident and ended up in the freezer. The sheep did a good job in keeping the grass down and mowing was unnecessary. It’s a different story now. In spring and early summer the grass and weeds grow quickly, sometimes up to waist high, depending on the winter rains. Of necessity I bought a ride-on mower a few years ago. It was a good move.
What has this to do with writing?
I learned a great deal about writing from mowing the grass.
Get a spark of an idea
Last spring the grass needed mowing. It was becoming a fire hazard as it dried in the warm sun. I went to start the mower – nothing.
Not a spark. The battery was flat. It wasn’t going anywhere.
Our writing can be like that. It seems to be going nowhere; in fact, some days it just won’t even start. Sometimes it needs a jump start to get it going. Take a break. Make a cup of tea or coffee. Go for a walk. Read a book for ten minutes. Then come back refreshed and ready to get it going again.
Get some outside help
Even though I charged the battery of my ride on mower, it still wouldn’t start. I tried everything I know about mowers and motors and batteries (which isn’t much – more of a short, short story actually). It needed professional help. I loaded it up on the trailer and took it to the dealer, a specialist in mower maintenance. That did the trick. He knew exactly how to solve the problem, giving me a few maintenance hints as well. Get some professional help with your writing. This is where networking and writers’ groups can be so beneficial. If necessary you may even need to pay to have your manuscript professionally assessed.
Eliminate the rubbish
When the mower was home again I got busy. There was plenty of grass that needed mowing before the summer fire danger season. Round and round I went mowing happily until… until the mower stopped mowing efficiently. What the… ? I stopped and looked down: the cutting area was clogged up with matted dry grass. The blades couldn’t do their job properly.
Is your writing clogged with rubbish? Words that don’t fit, or redundant sentences. Paragraphs that are really run-on sentences going nowhere. Wordy descriptions that “tell and don’t show.” Spelling and grammatical errors that readers – not to mention editors – will trip over and curse you for their sore knees.
Shed some light on your work
Sometimes I was enjoying the mowing so much the sun set on me and it started getting dark. The mower has two headlights but they don’t shed much light on the path ahead. I had to shut down, put the mower away and start again the next day.
Sometimes with our writing we get eyes that are dimmed through tiredness or trying too hard for too long. Put it away over night, or for a few days, and come back in the light of a new day. Instantly you will see where you were having troubles with a piece of writing and be able to correct it and move on.
Be sure to top up the fuel tank
My mower sometimes runs out of fuel. The gauge is on the side of the tank where I can’t see it from where I sit. It leaves me in no doubt about what is happening. It splutters to a stop with no warning. Sometimes it is a long walk back to the shed to get fuel.
Has your writing ever sputtered to a sudden stop, going nowhere? It is then time to refuel. Take a short holiday completely away from the work that is bogging you down. Go for a long walk every day. Set aside a day or two just for reading a novel. Stop and refuel by listening to music. Walk on the beach. Let the wind blow through your hair. See a movie or two or three. Visit a friend and have a good yarn about anything except your writing. Then come back fully refueled and ready to go on with your writing.
Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
As writers we need to be writing on a regular basis. I could almost guarantee that Tiger Woods practises his golfing skills on a daily basis. All professional sportsmen and women spend countless hours going over the basics, time and time again, day after day. Actors, dancers and musicians rehearse, rehearse and then rehearse some more. I’ve read that it takes ten thousand hours to become truly proficient at any skill.
Write every day.
This is the only way to hone those skills, to learn how language works, to iron out any problems you may have and to discover your voice.
Here is a quick and simple list of writing activities you could do on a regular basis to exercise those writing muscles. You can probably think of dozens of other ideas. Share them in the comments section.
A very short list of 30 writing exercises:
- Write a few paragraphs in your journal today.
- Write a list of the things you really like.
- Write a list of writing goals for this week.
- Start writing a blog.
- Write ten sentences about your childhood.
- Write a paragraph about your first pet.
- Make a list of the things that annoy you.
- Describe the smells that make you happy.
- Write three paragraphs about your best friend.
- Describe what you can see out through the nearest window.
- Write a letter to a family member who lives far from away from you.
- Write about your favourite fruit.
- Describe the most frightening experience you’ve ever had.
- Write about the happiest day of your life.
- Describe how to make your favourite meal.
- Make a list of the places you would like to visit.
- In twenty words (or less), tell the story of your favourite movie.
- Write a character sketch of your favourite fictional character.
- Make a list of the twenty best books you’ve ever read.
- Describe the smells that make you hungry.
- Write an email to a friend or family member.
- Describe the scariest movie or television show that you’ve ever seen.
- Write a letter of protest to your local paper.
- Write about a time you were terribly embarrassed.
- Write about your favourite toy (even if you are getting on in years).
- Write a list of the ways in which you would change the world.
- Write a list of things you like to do alone.
- What things really bother you?
- Describe the most dangerous thing you have ever done.
- Who is your hero – and why?
A Note to Teachers:
The list above is a great starting point for writing activities for your students. Give them a go and let me know how they go. You may copy the entire list for classroom use.
- Short story starters – an archive of dozens of ideas for short story writing.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
~ Richard Bach
If you are a writer struggling with the dream of becoming a professional writer, don’t quit.
Persistence is the key, and hard work. Set some firm goals for today, this week, this month, this year and for the next five years. Write down these goals – then go for them. Don’t even think about quitting.
Word by word, chapter by chapter, story by story, poem by poem you will become a professional writer.
You may not reap fame or fortune – very few do. Most professional writers who diligently pursue their dreams make a reasonable living from their labours.
And while you are becoming a professional writer you will have the satisfaction that you are doing what you love – writing.
‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’
This is one of my failings.
Guilty as charged.
I write, write, write and have no trouble churning out stories and poems and articles. Then they just sit quietly on my computer hard drive or as a printout in a folder. I don’t have a problem with blog posts, but when it comes to sending off my other writing to publishers or to competitions I am sadly lacking.
I think the problem stemmed from a period several years ago when I did send out quite a few pieces to various competitions and print publishers. In a very short period of time I had many dozens of rejections and not a single acceptance. I am talking about more than 30 rejections over a short space of time. It messed with my mind. I became discouraged and subsequently depressed.
I really haven’t fully recovered, which is silly I know. The only way to get published is to send out your best writing.
And when the inevitable rejections come, the story, article, poem or novel needs to go out to another potential publisher. Sometimes the piece needs rewriting, severe editing or other forms of improvement, especially if the previous editor you sent it to gives feedback along these lines. There is no other way.
Note to self: submit those manuscripts!
Note to wife (if she reads this): Yes dear, I will send them off. Promise.