My writing skills, though some may not choose to call them that, have been honed by a lot of just doing. I’ve never had any formal training; never took a creative writing class; never attended writer conferences or sat around on first Tuesdays with some group that reads each other’s works to each other. Nope, none of those things, despite the fact that they may have been a big help.
So I am a self-taught writer. I’ve been writing regularly for a long time. I had a good foundation to work with. Like the kind English teacher in the picture, those in the 50’s and 60’s still relentlessly pounded basic grammar and sentence structure into you until you bled dangling participles and misplaced modifiers. And too, I think some of the creative process is natural if the right genes come together. My mother wrote. My grandfather painted.
Up until I retired a few years ago, my writing was confined to whatever my job called for. I wrote news copy, feature reports or prepped printed and voice copy for countless promotional campaigns and radio commercials. All those things are objective in nature. I just had to make sure they were accurate, communicated clearly and met the goal of either informing or motivating a listener to tune in at a certain time, enter a contest or go buy a new car.
How much of me, my personal self, worked its way into any of those scripts I wrote was either coincidence or an attempt at making the material relatable—like, hey, I’m a person and I’m writing this commercial just as if I were the someone hearing it and became captivated by its remarkable relatability. And, of course, as that someone, I will drop everything and run to the car dealer and buy a new one.
Now that I am retired, the writing I am doing is a lot different. Writing short 30-second announcements is a far cry from cranking out a full-fledged novel. I did the latter this year and it was a hell of a ride. When you change from objective to subjective writing, non-fiction to fiction, you change just about everything. You are definitely no longer in Kansas.
You’ve heard the phrase, “don’t take it personal.” I hate it. I take everything personal. There is a great moment in the movie, You’ve Got Mail, that makes me smile. Tom Hanks plays a huge chain book store monger who has put little individual book shop owner, Meg Ryan, out of business. He, of course, tells her it wasn’t personal. Her reply: “…all that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me...and what is so wrong with being personal anyway?” Way to go, Meg, couldn’t have said it better myself.
The nice thing about writing pure fiction is that it is pretty much unrestricted. You can be as personal as you want. You can distort, exploit, disrupt or otherwise completely control whatever or whoever it is you wish to tell about. You don’t have to worry about offending anyone. You don’t have to be concerned about facts. These can be made up. You don’t have to be intimidated by someone checking on your locations—they don’t really exist! You can detail them however you wish and if you later decide to rearrange the furniture, no problem.
Your characters, meanwhile, can be from your wildest dreams or scariest nightmares. They can be bald or beautiful, flirtatious or f’d-up. You pick from the menu—the very same menu you made up. So if you have an itch to express yourself, what more could you wish for? In a fictional world it is always open season and the territory is both bountiful and boundless. But….but…be careful what you wish for.
When you begin pouring out inner thoughts, sending their coded impulses down your arms, past your wrists and out through your fingertips onto the keyboard, a magical process takes place. Within seconds, all that jumbled mess in your head appears on a computer monitor inches from your face, hopefully in logical form. It could be a magnificent experience as if peering at a mountain range rising up from ground zero right there in front of you…or, it could resemble just the opposite, as if you’re staring down between your legs as you sit on a toilet. See, you can be as graphic as you want, too.
Fictional writing is very, very personal. You may be the most private person, the most unwilling to share your personal thoughts and emotions, but if you write well, all those inhibitions go away the moment you begin the process. Curiously, I have found that creative people often operate best when they are secluded in their own world. Outside of it, well, don’t expect things to match up.
I worked in talk radio for a good bit of my career. A good talk show host, I learned, was not necessarily someone who you would like to gab with at the coffee machine. Some talk show hosts are horrible people to be with. They can be rude, indifferent and more than not, a wee bit—sometimes a lot bit—crazy. But, put them in a studio with a microphone and shut the door and they are in their element. Suddenly, they are someone, or something, entirely different. In fact, when looking for good talk talent, the more weird someone acted during a job interview, the more likely they were the person I should hire. It took me a long time to figure that out.
So, placing fingers upon a keyboard can give you mystical power. The most intimate thoughts you may have sequestered in your personal dungeon can be released. If you don’t want to own them you can always manifest them elsewhere in one or more of the characters who roam your pages. Sure, readers may always think you are writing about yourself, but there really is no proof. That degree of doubt, no matter how small, frees you up to write anything you need to get out. If anyone takes issue with what you’ve done just tell them to read the disclaimer. Or better yet, tell them…“don’t take it personal!”
Marc Kuhn is the author of three books. Recently published is an adult historical novel, THE POPE’S STONE. The other two books are for children: NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE…And a bunch of other things you should never do!; and ABOUT A FARM, lessons for life regardless of where you live.
All three books are available at amazon.com and each has its own .com website under its title.