A note to my fellow writers:
There’s an amusing scene in the seasonal classic, “A Christmas Story,” in which Ralphie fantasizes about his teacher’s reaction to his BB gun-centric essay. In Ralphie’s vision, Miss Shields, his “language arts” instructor, is mesmerized by the profundity and elegance of her student’s writing.
In a state of euphoria, Miss Shields breathlessly reads the masterpiece aloud, after which Ralphie is paraded triumphantly around the classroom on the shoulders of his cheering classmates.
But in the real world, Ralphie’s essay is a dud: no “A+” from Miss Shields, no applause from his fellow students, no victory march around the classroom.
Writers can relate to the scene. Well-established ink-slingers and aspiring scribblers alike routinely endure disappointment and rejection. We are, in modern parlance, “down with the struggle.”
Most of our friends and family members can’t relate. In their view, writing is a boring, tedious obligation one has to muddle through in school, and that’s the end of it.
So, to whom do we turn for constructive criticism, encouragement and consolation? Each other, of course. The problem is, most of us are introverts. Which means, generally speaking, we are not comfortable with the whole “meet and greet” scenario. We’ll return to the fellowship theme below.
Although I have a full-time “real job,” I’ve also been a freelance writer for about 25 years, during which I’ve devoted innumerable nights and weekends to The Word. Along the way, through painful trial and error, I’ve learned a few things that my fellow writers might find useful.
Read voraciously: The proper ratio of reading to writing is something on the order of 20-to-1. In order to test this theory, simply take a look at something written by someone who never reads. Nine times out of 10, it will be semi-literate garbage.
You will discover a handful of writers you admire the most. Read them a lot. They will remind you that the written word can be magical, and inspire you to cast your own literary spells.
Books about writing tend to be boring, but there are exceptions. In no particular order, here are a few that I recommend: “Woe is I” by Patricia T. O’Conner; “You’ve Got a Book in You” by Elizabeth Sims; “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White; “On Writing” by Stephen King; and finally, to learn and laugh in equal measure, read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss.
Set realistic goals: As Ralphie learns in “A Christmas Story,” you shouldn’t expect awards, widespread acclaim or a huge influx of cash for your writing. If a few people appreciate something you’ve written, congratulations! That’s a win.
Write for your own satisfaction. If you’re satisfied with your work, others will probably like it, too. If not …
Be persistent: Much of what you write and submit to newspapers, magazines and websites will be rejected. Never mind. Keep writing and submitting. If your avocation never becomes your vocation, so what? You should write because you enjoy it, with or without publication or monetary gain.
Join a writers’ group: This one is difficult for introverts. I know, because I’m one of them. But you will learn from, and be inspired by, people who can relate to your challenges. I regularly attend two groups — one in Greensboro, and another in Kernersville.
In each, there are a few exceptional writers. Attendees range in age and experience, from millennials who have been writing for a matter of months, to older, retired folks who’ve been scribbling for decades. They will draw you out of your shell, you will enjoy yourself and, most importantly, you will make valuable discoveries.