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Learning to Write

Writing ManI like to think that my writing journey is just getting started, that my greatest growth and development is still ahead of me. My novels are yet to be written, my most truthful poems are yet to be drafted, and my dissertation is only just now starting to fall into place. Yet although I am still early on my path, I do believe I’ve learned a few things about how to communicate in the written form. What follows are my top 5 lessons as a writer, each obtained slowly over time, and largely without realizing it:

1      Writing is a way of exploring the depth and breadth of my awareness. 

We all have unknown known’s in our lives, fields of knowledge that go largely beneath our own radars. Writing – whether crafting an outline or just throwing words on a page – is a way to get in touch with those fields of knowledge. It is an exercise that allows us to explore exactly how much we really know about a topic, revealing levels of feeling and awareness that often operate at subconscious levels. As we discipline ourselves to write, we are probing this awareness, testing these feelings, and become more conscious of this knowledge.

2      Short sentences have their place.

Sentences do not have to be long to be truthful. Words do not have to be complicated to be real. If you have something to say, feel free to just say it. And to do so simply. The long sentences will be there, using up every comma they can, making sure the reader knows all the subtleties of the subject matter. Yet short sentences are frequently missing. They are common on twitter, yet absent in most paragraphs. Rectifying this imbalance has been a great way to add energy to my writing.

3      Becoming ‘great’ often means releasing the merely good.

I almost never get to write as much as I would like. The demands of work, school, and civic life always seem to be there, teaching me that every 15 minutes of writing is dearly precious time. For years, this abbreviated writing schedule meant that I would try to use everything I produced. My opportunities to write were so few that, in one way or another, I figured that I had better use anything I was able to develop.

As I have begun to give writing more priority in my life, this attitude has really started to change. My pages are no longer a reflection of my worth, or a testament of my convictions. They are just pages. Raw material to be used or discarded, stages in the non-linear process of getting my point across. The more that I have been able to let these pages go, realizing their place in the developmental journey of a piece, the closer I have gotten to feeling real pride in what I produce.

4      We all have our own preferred ways of telling stories.

I love ideas. If you ask me about the themes in a movie or the main points in a book, I can give you a killer summary, condensing large amounts of material into a few basic points.

However, I am horrible with remembering details. My recall for dialogue is almost non-existent and I almost never notice the color of someone’s eyes. Over time, I’ve learned that my mind does not always work sequentially. I am a gifted abstract thinker, yet in order to function that way, I often block out huge amounts of information that others may find essential.

As a writer, this makes me great at developing term papers, yet gives me a big disadvantage when attempting to tell a personal story. This is something that I have recognized about myself, something I have slowly started to leverage for my advantage.

While I am now working harder to absorb the details in an experience, I have also discovered ways to create stories around my gift for grasping ideas. While the textures, hues, and smells of my surroundings may continue to elude me, I am learning to capture just enough of these details to give flavor to the concepts at the core of most of my communications.

5      Writing is a reflection of your encounters in the world.

At the end of the day, writing requires having something to say. So while I rarely get as much time in front of the page as I would like, I have come to appreciate the crucial importance of the time I spend away from the writing process. It is out in the world that my thinking really gets tested, through life’s events and interaction with my own possibilities and limits. By seeing this time as integral to the writing process, I have been able to spend more of my waking hours developing the thoughts, notes, and grand ideas that ultimately serve as the resources for my writing hours.


  • Anne Faulls says:

    RE: #1

    There’s “learning to write,” and there’s “writing to learn.” I am currently writing my memoirs and am discovering so much about my personal truth.

  • I love this, Ryan! It’s generous and true. This morning I was reading something that was comparing writing to teaching — all your points here fit. Thanks for the wise words!

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