How can I be expected to wait?! Since when does Amazon take two weeks to deliver one simple item?! That item I anxiously await is….. a puzzle….and it has a thousand pieces.
In case it hasn’t been made clear yet, I’ll spell it out for you now. The “story arc” of this whole blog-thing is centered around me finding answers to this existential proposition: I have 25 years to live. What am I going to do? It is this thought-puzzle I have named, “1 More World.”
My pathway to solving this grandest of all mental puzzles, and the way various divergent stories have linked together in my head, reminds me of how it is to work a real jigsaw puzzle- slowly, methodically…with bursts and dry spells included.
Of course, if it’s your typical puzzle you know what it will look like when finished– exactly like the picture on the box, right? But what if there is no box? What if all you have are the pieces? …and not even all of those? In that case you wouldn’t know the image until doggedly laboring towards the very end. This is what we are doing. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s totally working for me.
With each blog post I (somewhat carefully) choose an image to go along with it. For the Puzzle of a Thousand Pieces post [Link], I found a stock photo of a bunch of puzzle pieces. Good, but I wasn’t completely satisfied. That’s when the idea came to me. What if I find an actual physical jigsaw puzzle that mirrors the metaphorical one we are solving in my head? What poetic symmetry that would be to work a real puzzle over the next few weeks as my story simultaneously unfolds within the blog. This is brilliant!!
Sure enough, I found the perfect puzzle on Amazon and One-Click later the $35 order was placed. It’s going to be a beast to work by me-self. Once finished, it will be time for the big reveal.
By the 3rd week of June, the paradigm shifts, revelations, and epiphanies that had flooded my head since January could no longer be contained by my cranium. It was all too good, too exciting, too universal in nature, to not be shared with the world…. or at least with the six people who I imagined would be willing to follow along. I was on a trip for work at the time, staying at the Homewood Suites by Hilton on Long Island in New York City, (mostly working in Queens). With few distractions (other than the work I was sent there to do), I dove in… fingertips first.
As already mentioned too many times, I created a travel blog some 6-7 years ago [Link], but his endeavor would be far different. A travel blog is easy. You simply write about your experiences, add a few pics, and click the Publish button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. The audience for the travel blog is mostly yourself anyway, plus the few friends you hope might follow along but mostly don’t. The writing is light and straightforward- no real need for philosophizing or introspection. A travel blog need not contain any more “wisdom” than a postcard, and mine easily met that standard.
This blog, however, presents a much different challenge.
I’ve always liked to write. But that does not mean I’m any good at it. I like to play Ultimate frisbee, too. But that does not mean I’m any good at it. My honest self-assessment on both counts is that I’m pretty good, competent, I can hang, hold my own, etc. But the truly excellent writers or the top-ranked Ultimate players wouldn’t want me cluttering up their field for too long. I am simply not in their league.
One thing about 55 year old Gary the Ultimate player is that my room for improvement is nearly tapped out. After playing for 23 years, the chances that I will suddenly get much better are small; I will persist nonetheless. btw. As a writer, however… maybe there is still a chance to take myself from being a competent 5 to a solid 7, with 10 being those at the top of their game. But how does one go about learning to write gooder? Should I read a book? Take a class? Should I google it?
Of course, I googled it.
I found a small, two-person company named WriteByNight that boasts an experienced network of writing instructors. The company’s mission is to help wannabe writers (like me) improve their skills. When I first checked-into WriteByNight several years ago they were based in Austin, Texas, where I also lived at the time. I signed up for one of their short-story workshops at the O’Henry Museum and mostly enjoyed the experience. By the way, my short story (a 5-minute read) was titled, Possum Number Four. The workshop was cool and all, but not exactly what I was looking for.
Fast-forward to 2020 when I reached out to WriteByNight again with clearer goals. I told them, I am writing a blog. Help me write well enough so that my graduate-level friends don’t wince when they read it. [Yes, I’m looking at you, Double-D.] Their answer was to set me up with a writing coach, who in this case, was WriteByNight’s co-founder, David Duhr. [different DD]
Is it expensive? Well, yes, kinda. But learning to write better is something I’ve always wanted to do, and in the grand scheme of things, setting aside $300-$400 for this purpose sounded to me like money well spent.
During my first conversation with David, I let him know what I hoped to get out of my writing coach. [My “writing coach,” C’mon man!!! I know, right?! It sounds all at once luxurious and far too hoity-toity.] The way it works is that I email my writing coach a sample of my writing- my next couple of blog posts -he reads them through, makes notes, then we discuss the posts in a one-hour session the following day. It can vary, but each session costs me around $85.
Oh Thank Goodness
By the time we’d had just two sessions, here’s what happened– my confidence as a writer swelled like a hot air balloon. Here’s why. What David helped me understand is that rules of proper grammar and “punctuation” can be inhibitors to an author’s ability to convey their ideas and especially feelings. During our initial conversation I told David that I had no formal training as a writer. These were not his exact words, but what I heard him say was, Oh thank goodness.
The absolute most helpful thing he told me was this, “As long as the reader isn’t getting tripped-up as they’re reading, you’ve done your job as a writer.” Thank you for that, David! And with this advice I stopped feeling insecure about whether or not I was adhering to the correct rules of writing as they attempted to teach to me in grade school. I am an adult now and I’m free to follow my instincts. It’s freeing!
David also had some dynomite suggestions, especially around how to assemble material in a blog-styled format. But the truth is, I was most of the way there on my own. Turns out my instincts for writing are pretty good. Maybe I’m not a 5….maybe I’m already a 7! When we narrowed it down to individual sentences or paragraphs, more often than not, David was pointing out what I had done really well. To be clear, he was also drawing my attention to anything that didn’t land for him as a reader. That phrasing- “didn’t land” or “really landed” made total sense to my brain, too.
With each written sentence I am taking a chance. Will the reader know what I’m trying to say? Am I making sense? Is it compelling enough to move them down the page? David has a lot of experience writing. He also participates in writing clubs, teaches workshops, leads classes, does coaching, etc. And still he says…. even for him, even after all that….the process of writing is still fraught with uncertainty.
A few times David was highly complimentary about something I’d written. Who doesn’t appreciate praise, right? But what made it real was how he drew upon his experience to explain why what I had written landed so well. He was breaking down in detail things I was unconsciously doing. This said to me again that my instincts could be trusted. I can do this.
I think it’s time to update my LinkedIn profile, ‘cause I’m a freakin’ writer!
Up next, meet Yrag in Cannabis for an Alien, Part II