The Writing Class You Never Had

Let's say you've never had a writing class in your life, but you really want to write. Let's say you don't know the first thing about grammar or the English language. All you know is that you want to write. Good. That's all you need.

Photo credit: Christopher Sessums (Creative Commons)

Call this your first introduction to the true craft of writing. Not talking about writing or theorizing about words. Just writing. Let's get started.

There are three parts to writing anything:

  • The beginning
  • The middle
  • The end

That's it. It doesn't get any more complicated. If you can write those three parts, you can write anything: a novel, a play, a book, a blog post. So let's break it down a little further, step by step:

Beginning: Show up

  1. Sit down. Firmly plant your butt in the chair and keep it there for a set time. Whether it's five minutes or five hours, STAY PUT.
  2. Stay put until you write something. I don't care if you squander forty-five minutes and then rush to write 500 words in those last five minutes. Just don't leave until you have words on the screen or paper.
  3. Keep showing up. Do this again and again and again until it becomes a habit. It doesn't matter for how long; just keep doing it. Frequency trumps length.

Middle: Make it ugly

  1. Don't wait for inspiration. Write something terrible and ugly first, so that you can make it better later.
  2. Just write. Don't edit, don't think about it, don't go back and correct. Just write. It really is that simple.
  3. Start writing nonsense. If nothing comes to you and you aren't sure where to begin, just start writing. I don't care if it's asdjkl vbnm. If you write gobbledy-gook long enough, the real words will come.

At first it will be ugly and that's okay. Natural even. This is not the stage for perfection. It's time to make something; tweak later.

End: Murder all nonessentials

  1. It's editing time. Pull out your red pen and be brutal. When you were writing, you put the perfectionist away. Now, bring out the anal retentive jerk who's never satisfied with anything. This is where your work begins to sing, where it truly gets good.
  2. Kill your darlings. Cross out everything that doesn't work, even those beautiful, irrelevant phrases that you just can't bear to live without. Those are your “darlings;” aim and fire. They deserve to die.
  3. Cut weak words. Any word that doesn't absolutely need to be there needs to go. Especially lazy words like adverbs (don't tell me he said something intelligently; show me his intelligence by what he says).

Class dismissed.

Any questions? Share in the comments.