Letter To a Young Writing Coach

[4-minute read]

Armed, but not sufficiently dangerous.

Dear S.:

I’m a coach myself — basketball, mainly — and I taught writing forever. I’m a chalk- and red-ink-stained wretch, so despite my bride’s entreaties, and the general on-line encouragement I’ve gotten from you, I still don’t want a writing coach. Stubborn? Maybe. I persist in wanting to lift myself by my own bootstraps; mind you, the physics of that is still mysterious to me. After quite a few years of not exactly setting the WordWorld on fire, I still want one of two outcomes: slay this ridiculous dragon of vaguely literary desire, or find a way to harness the sucker all by myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t look for inspiration, tools and writing-my-way-out-of-the-wilderness tips, though.
Mostly because of a suggestion from Margaret Atwood — via her Twitter account, that is — I follow Chuck Wendig and his fiery, rude and funny advice to his on-line band of fellow “pen-monkeys”. That’s also how I wound up lurking near Story is a State of Mind. (Your gentle, organic counsel makes for a very interesting counterpoint to his, as far as voices in a struggling writer’s ear go!) I’ve subscribed to your daily writer’s prompts for months. Never used ’em, and yup, I sometimes rolled my eyes. (“Write about the taste of rain.” Yeah, right.) Hey, listen: I know what you’re pushing me to do. I was a writing teacher in small-town high schools for years, and I, too, gave eye-rollingly absurd suggestions as Journal Topics for the Day: break OUT, guys, try stuff, just get your pen going and then you can go wherever you (or IT) want(s)… The taste of rain wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere with tenth-graders.
I’ve been dry for a while, but I’m back in the saddle. Hit a big birthday, saved up for it by giving myself licence to NOT write ’til the day came, which siphoned a full tank of frustration out of the top half of August. (Good for me.) Since my birthday crepes, I’ve been trying to act more like a pro, showing up at the desk, grinding. Bird by bird, buddy. (I’m sure you get that reference.¹) I’m also a big fan of Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, and yesterday began re-re-re-rereading it with some dear ones. Three of us, at least, clearly aspire to Writingness and can hear the clock tsk, tsk, tsk-ing away. And yes, I’m on a two-week roll, which is lovely, and to get to the point, I’ve finally started using your prompts, blue pen in my own Journal. (And I did write about the taste of rain. Got down some nasty/good stuff I liked and might use, among the blathering. I got going.)

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It’s Lonely at the Top…

…of this page, where a pale head on fuschia shoulders floats in a cold cerulean sea… (It’s just up there, top right corner — the disembodied Spirit of Semi-Constant Scribble. A couple of my nieces have found this site too funny to read, because of that ghostly noggin hovering there. But I swear the shirt was red when the photo was taken.) Even Writing Heads Get the Blues. But in contrast to the rude (and rhyming) epithet so common these days, I have only one thing to say to all of you out there in CyberLand: you can just WRITE me! A couple of you have noted the lack of ready-made comment space on, but you shouldn’t let that discourage you. At the bottom of that eerily glowing yellow box at left is a Write Me! (don’t bite me) button that gets you to my email address, and the rest is as easy as falling off your front porch.

For one thing, I’m a bit of a grammar-and-spelling freak and am occasionally horrified to see that something sub- or semi-literate has been set free to further corrupt the corridors of cyberspace, placing yet more of the misery of psoriasis on the unsightly shoulders of the information highway, sullying the glistening filaments of the world-wide Web. (Or you may object to overheated metaphors.) I’d be grateful for your help in eliminating errors of grammar or fact, but would welcome even more your reflections, commentary, or a simple “hello from Guadeloupe (Vancouver, Detroit, southern Caledonia…)”. ‘Sall good, as those spunky youngsters (spongy yunksters?) love to say.

 No hiding, now. My little stat machine tells me that there are a few of you out there now, and while I’ve been known to talk to myself, it’d be nice to know that there’s somebody out there who can read. And who does.