Saturday, February 09, 2008

Writing as Muscle Memory:
Here's the Table of Contents

Here's the table of contents (at least at the moment) for that book I mentioned last week that's currently in production, Writing as Muscle Memory: 35 Things You Can Begin Doing Today To Tone Your Writing Muscles And Hone Your Craft. A special thanks to Art, Tina and Maria for the beginnings of a very lively and interesting discussion about the intro. Even more grist for my mill, folks.

Getting Started
Read Everything
Write Everything
Ignore Most of What Your Seventh-Grade English Teacher Said
Make Yourself a Business Card
Find a Trusted Reader
Start Small

What Comes Next
Turn that Damned TV Off
Find a Mentor (or Two)
Start a Blog
Write Every Day
Worry About Publishing Later
Don’t Throw Anything Away!
Just Stop and Tell Me What You Want to Say
Forget About Writer’s Block–Just Start Anywhere
Or, Make an Outline
Get Yourself to a Conference
Write About What Really Matters to You
Write About What You Know—Or Care Enough About to Investigate
Build a Stockpile
Get Used to It: You’ll Have to Pay Your Dues

Taking It Up a Notch
Remember: Less is More
Put Your Writing on a Diet
Mentor Another Writer
Lose Yourself in a Poetry Collection
Study the Dictionary for Concise Writing
Read it Aloud
Find Yourself a Support Group
Make Yourself a Writing Portfolio
Learn to Listen to Your Mind/Body Rhythms

When You’re Really Cooking
Profile Someone You Know
Profiles Someone You’ve Never Met
Begin Tackling Essays
Try Your Hand at Travel Writing
Try Something Completely Different
Teach Others to Write


At 12:09 PM, Blogger Maria said...

I'm really excited about your subject, John. You don't need me to tell you to persevere! And tell us more!

My eye fell on the topic of 7th grade English teachers...I could digress here about both mine and, with all due respect, my son's (just a few years back)...

But I'll stop myself and just say that we both lived to tell about our journeys and both (so far) have kept writing.

Thanks for posting this!

At 12:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Maria. You've confirmed what I think I already knew: that this whole subject of primary-school English teachers and how you need to ignore much of what they taught on the subject of writing will probably be among the most provocative--and, I hope resonant--of the subjects I'll be covering. It boils down to this, really: most English teachers are not writers themselves, and thus not in a very good position to coach anyone on how to write. Far too many of them--all of mine, I'm afraid--thus fell back on hoary notions that now infiltrate academia: 1). the idea of deconstructing writing, and trying to explain it by teasing out various themes and hidden meanings, and 2). sending the disastrous message that good writing is little more than a mastery of the rules of grammar and usage. Of course that's important, crucial even, in the formation of craft. But it's not at the heart of the exercise, not really part of the inner DNA of writing. Having something important to say is what it's really about, and finding the ways to say it best are merely the tactics by which you execute that larger goal.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Maria said...

Two batches of writing I'm evaluating from my classes now are "literacy autobiographies." This involves reflecting on pivotal experiences with reading and writing (in school or out) and from toddlerhood to any points thereafter. It's an illuminating assignment for students and for me because it shows where stuckness happens and the miracle of reinforcement (intrinsic or extrinsic). I sometimes ask for this essay in the 3rd person to encourage looking from the outside in. Teachers and parents who love language and support a spirit of inquiry with language are extremely valuable. My parents were fluent in other languages (not English), but they just knew how to stand in the wings as encouragers. As a parent, I thus knew that part of my role was to model curiosity about language and a fluidity in using it. I bite my tongue when my son encounters an English teacher that threatens to undo the natural mentoring I've provided and his own creativity-- which I can take no credit for whatsoever. And I guess we can grow despite the naysayers...but it takes fortitude and guts. Perhaps even uninspired teachers can be taught to listen to their students' struggling words. This is not the end of their role...but it's one of the most important parts. No amount of red-pen syndrome can compensate for it. And--on the other hand--some students these days in college are arriving with weaker mechanics than ever. Go figure!

At 11:33 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You've said a mouthful here, Maria. I love the wonderful coinage of diagnosing students' "stuckness." I think you should trademark that. And your phrase about how parents "stand in the wings as encouragers" is similarly wonderful. That's really the essence, at least ideally, of the roles parents, teachers and mentors should play in the lives of their children, students and mentorees/proteges. There is nothing more powerful in the universe than earning the praise and approval (spoken or unspoken) of someone we look up to.

And finally, you talk about the "red pen syndrome." That's also a resonant phrase, summoning up every censorious know-it-all teacher most of us ever had, those Miss Crabtrees who seemed intent on breaking our spirit. At the same time, every writer needs that kind of line-by-line, word-by-word critiquing at some point in their development. As it happens, I write about how it came for me at the right time, and in the right way, from a tough-minded old editor named Don, who wordlessly tore up my flabby, not-quite-mediocre prose in my first paid writing job. He wasn't warm and fuzzy, and would have laughed till he choked (he was a heavy drinker and smoker) at the notion that he was being anything so dandified as a mentor. A weaker personality might have interpreted his suggestions differently. But I took it as high praise that he was even taking the time to work with me, since he wasn't my boss and barely a colleague. Just someone I intuitively sensed as the person closest at hand with the most to teach me.

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Chris McVetta said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:45 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

On the other hand, one of my first mentors in life was my 10th and 11th grade English teacher. I placed out of the regular requirement, and did electives. I took his creative writing class, on his recommendation, and he taught a lot of ways of practice that I still find useful.

One of these is writing down everything you see, and all your senses, for five minutes. I went out with a notepad and pencil and wrote as I walked around my neighborhood. I jotted notes, filled them out later. It was an exercise in highly detailed observation that serves me still. I find I tend to observe more than most writers, maybe because I spend less time in my head, with the flurry of thoughts blocking one from actually seeing what's there in front of one, and also because of this early training in observation. Or maybe he just honed a natural ability; it's possible, I suppose.

Under his encouragement, I not only published a couple of short stories, but won a national writing award.

Then I had a couple of really sucky teachers in early college, and stopped writing for awhile.

At the same time, I discovered by browsing in the University used book store a small volume of poems that re-ignited me, because the poet was writing exactly what I was hearing in head, in the style I was interested in pursuing, that had been un-encouraged by those early college classes. That poet gave me permission to write the kind of poetry I wanted to write; or that's what it felt like. So, I pretty much pursued my own path after that. I've never taken a writing class since, but I've taught a few people, here and there.

Mentors can make a huge difference.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

I love the idea of writing as muscle memory. Great list!

At 1:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Michelle. Since you're an important part of the target demographic for such a book, I'm pleased to hear this from you. Good luck on your book project, too. (Note to everyone else: if you haven't checked out Michelle's blog yet, as I've encouraged you to do in the past, please do yourself a favor and do so now. Just click on her name and follow the link).

At 11:37 AM, Blogger becca0721 said...

Thank you John!

I have been trying to figure out how to be an author for the past year now and just discovered you at LinkeIn.

By chance I came to your blog and have been inspired by your words and getting started ideas.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, Becca, that's humbling. But also of course a perfect expression of what I'm hoping to accomplish with this book, beginning with the sneak previews and thinking out loud here in this venue. And the fact that you've arrived here via Linkedin is all the cooler. And if you're the Becca I think you might be (don't worry, we don't out anyone here), it's triply cool. Anyway, thanks so very much for reading, and extra thanks for going to all the trouble of leaving a comment. I certainly hope this will be just your first of many.

At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Peter said...

This is a great post, John. Solid pointers for how to keep ideas captured in the written word and on the right/write track.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks so much for your input, Peter. It's really appreciated.


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