As my creative workshops are wrapping up, I’m gearing up for the copy writing and marketing writing classes I’ve signed up for at UC Berkeley. I’ve always taken extra classes, despite already having degrees. I think of them as refreshers, as keeping current and as a touchstone to ensure that my work is the best it can be. This means a lot of homework!
But otherwise, my free time would go exclusively to reading novels and playing video games. My fear of irrelevancy and deterioration keeps me motivated! And it’s fun to learn new stuff and to hear stuff I know already. It’s all good!
Sometimes, the more I care for something, the less I want it exposed to the scrutiny of others. Generally, that’s the point for me when I have to put the piece away for a while – almost until I forget about it a bit – and revisit when I’m not quite as invested. Then, that’s the point when I can rework it a bit and share.
Although I’ve worked in creative fiction groups and taken classes and workshops where we’re encouraged to quickly churn out prose and immediately present it for group scrutiny – journalist style – that hasn’t ever helped me to get my best work in fiction. In non-fiction, when working to deadlines, after my research is done and I’ve got it right – sure! It’s no problem for me to churn out reams of good – sometimes even great – copy. But for whatever reason my prose benefits from simmering and a long point of view.
That’s a great benefit of aging for me: I finally have the confidence from years of education and experience to know and trust my style and methods, and I’m also old enough to know that sometimes new is better and more is more. I like that I know what works for me but can still try something new.
I worked as an editor once. This was back when a career in publishing still felt possible. First I was assistant, then coordinator at successive academic houses directly connected to my alma matter. After a couple of years of that I made the jump to freelance copy-editing.
Freelancing was interesting and challenging.
I had this client – he was determined to strike it rich, and if regular work and gambling didn’t get him there then goshdarnit he was going to be a bestselling author and would I edit his book?
I was skeptical, but interested. Did he know I only copy-edited? Oh yes, yes of course; he knew all the things. Well!
Thankfully by this point I was a bit savvy and had him sign a contract and pay me a deposit. Thankfully, because he handed me 12 rough pages of bullet points and – despite signing a contract that clearly outlined my scope and purview as a copy-editor – he stated that he expected me to turn his 12 pages of bullet points into his book. In about a week. And he was outraged! incredulous! when I handed him back his pages with a few nicely typed pages of my own on top with suggestions for next steps.
I remembered this as I was reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s book about craft. It’s great of course; well written, interesting, solid exercises; just as you’d expect. She writes:
Careless grammar is bad design plus sand in the gears and the wrong size gaskets.
-p. 21. Kindle Edition
Perfect, right? I lived and breathed grammar for so long that I don’t think of it the way I used to and so picked up her book for a refresher and to learn more new things, of course!
I’m not a stickler though. Oh no. don’t you confuse me for one of those infuriatingly smug grammarians, red-penning it up all over the place.
One of my top 5 favorite things about language is that it’s very nature, the core of it if you will, is it’s fluidity. I love the grace and ease with which it flows.
To me, language is a river, and our usage is all the things in the river: the stones and plants, the rose petals and tossed love-letters, the fishies and dragonflys, but also the McDonalds wrappers, dead birds, detritus and flotsam and jetsam that gets picked up along the way and flows merrily along together to form one whole and imperfect changing thing.
Those who know me know that I have more than one creative interest. In fact, I’ve written and illustrated a children’s book (still in revisions), I paint, draw and craft. And as much as I love and need to do these activities, they result in less time writing, which means less time working, which means less money in the bank.
I tell myself that it’s ok, because these activities constitute my leisure time when I might otherwise be watching tv or playing video games – which I love too! I also tell myself that these mental shifts away from the act of writing clear up and add to my subconscious library studio. Library studio? Yes, that’s the place in my head where ideas fly in the window, get shuffled and sorted, stored or worked on.
I know most people have a “well of creativity” but one thing no one has ever, in my entire life-to-date accused me of, was being like most people. Which used to bother me greatly, but I see now that I am older is a benefit – one that I need to train myself to embrace and use, rather than squash and avoid.
As you walk home you see the street lights pop on and hear the drops hit your umbrella fabric. The world feels peaceful and quiet. You pause on the bridge to admire the quickening stream and come face to face with a troll!
I was pleasantly surprised then when my instructor in the writing course I’m currently taking referenced Ueland’s book in the very first lesson. The reference she used was so clear, and practical, and directly applicable to my writing that I was struck with how important it is to have the right information at the right time; that all the great tips, tricks, thoughts in the world don’t do me any good unless I’m in a time and place in which I can be thoughtful and receptive.
For me, in addition to a great lesson in writing, it was a great lesson to be mindful and open and to consider things more carefully when presented with them, rather than just rush to complete the task I’m on. Hopefully this will help me be a better writer!