Last month I mentioned that I like to visit a website where I can listen to people tell stories about their lives. I watch a lot of programs on PBS and happened to catch a short, ‘filler’ spot attributed to StoryCorps with a note at the end to check out their website to find out more. I did and have been hooked ever since. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I cry. Always I’m amazed at the rich fodder people carry within their memories; stories they could use as raw material for complete memoirs or books of fiction. The fact is I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone without an interesting story to tell, and that’s where writing starts – with a story.
If I were to ask you to tell me a story about your life, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Hold that thought, or better yet, write it down and try to write it exactly as you would tell it to me. Is it easy? Do the words flow from your mind to your hand without hesitation? Or do the gods of grammar and punctuation get in your way making you stop, erase, and rewrite your words till you no longer think your story is any good?
I think the grammar gods get in the way for most people. Even for those where the words flow freely at first, there comes a time where you have to apply ‘craft’ to your writing. What is ‘craft’? It includes grammar and punctuation, of course, but it also includes plot, characterization, setting the scene, narrative, dialog, structure, building suspense, voice, flow – the list goes on and on. Feel intimidated? Too scared to share your writing with other people? I don’t think you have to be afraid.
During my time as a member of the Deadwood Writers Group, I’ve read hundreds of writing submissions by dozens of people. In all that reading, I’d say each piece had at least 90 percent of the mechanics of craft already in place. Many had even more of the mechanics down. So my experience tells me that your writing is probably a lot more interesting and in better shape than your fear of the grammar gods will let you believe. That’s not to say your piece will be perfect. If you’re seeking truthful feedback, people will help you find the craft areas that you still need to develop. You might even have an idea of what those areas are and can ask for help in those specific places.
The point to keep in mind is that people with a love of reading and writing seem to have absorbed a lot of what they were taught in English classes in school. If you share that enthusiasm, have faith in what you’ve learned and write with the confidence that you have the basics inside of you. If you have a story to tell, you’ve started and are already more than halfway there.