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Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Believe the Children Are Our Future; or I Was Completely Sincere and Utterly Sober

You asked for it, and now yer gonna git it: the speech, more or less, that I delivered to a Metro State University Creative Writing Class Tuesday night.  I spoke for roughly 25 minutes.  There are no recordings, but this is what I recall…

 I’ve learned many things in the last five years, the most important being that desk ergonomics are your friend.  I’m here to tell you that typing all day and typing all night will make Jack one unhappy, tendonitis-afflicted dude.  Learn from me, children, and protect your forearms.

People ask me how I find so many things to write about.  That’s like saying, “Aren’t you worried you’ll run out of things to say?”  Look at me.  Do I look like someone who will run out of things to say?  Now look at you.  Trust me:  you will never run out of things to say.

The truth is that writing is a skill.  There is no such thing as a muse.  The muse is you.  The muse appears through dedication to writing.  Turn off the distractions, head into your own mind, and get it down on paper.  Hemingway said that all first drafts are shit – and isn’t that comforting?  You’ve been freed of believing you must be perfect.  Accept the idea that the first draft, like the first time you do anything, will not be fantastic – but that you are free to go back to look for the stilted language, the repetitive words, the conflicts between past and present tense.  You are free to be imperfect, to be loose and unafraid. 

The more you do this, the easier it becomes.

They say the ideal blog post is between 250 and 600 words.  Beyond that number is “TL;DR” – Too Long; Didn’t Read.  People come to blogs for just a moment, for a brief respite in the day.  Me, I’m here only to share a snapshot, 300 to 400 words at a time.  I am not looking to change the world, only to show you how I see things. 

Sometimes the things I see are small.  I was on the bus the other day when I pulled out my little book to jot down a quick idea.  I overhear the women behind me whispering: “You know, I have my issues, but at least I’m not writing in my diary on the bus!” 

Me!  They’re making fun of me!  I mean, seriously, do these gals know who I am?! 

They got a good laugh out of what a weirdo I obviously was. 

And so did I.

And that is as it should be:  Everyone is somebody’s weirdo.  Today, I am the weirdo.  Tomorrow, it will be you. 

Hopefully someone will write about it.

Too often, people get flowery with their prose, as if the more words they use, the more legitimate they will sound.  Again with the Hemingway, but apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald asked Hemingway’s opinion on something he was writing.  After reading it, Hemingway returned the transcript with a note to “lose all the very’s”. 

For example:  “A very beautiful woman walked into the bar.”

Yes? 

No. 

“A beautiful woman walked into the bar.” 

Direct.  Simple.  Powerful.

Read your stuff with that in mind.  Again and again.  If you can read it without stumbling, if you can read it and hear yourself, you are on the right path.  The reader should have a sense of who is speaking, feel that they know you.  When I read my own stuff, I do my best to charm me.  Do I believe what I am saying? Would I buy what I’m selling?   When people come to read “Pearl”, they do so trusting me.  I have what is called a “contract with the audience”.  I don’t swear much, I don’t get political, I don’t lay blame or go on rants.  Let other writers do that.  We all have complaints, and I’m not going to add to your load by piling on mine.  All I want is to make you laugh, maybe give you some insight into why people, in my experience, behave the way they do.

Writing, as in life, requires that we be fearless, that we edit when necessary, that we expand when called upon to do so. 

Thank you so much allowing me to speak tonight.


Does anyone have any questions?

44 comments:

Indigo Roth said...

So... what were you wearing?

Oh, and damned good advice, all of it. Tho my first drafts are sparkly.

Roth x

MikeP said...

Can I share this with my English students? It is perfect.

Simply Suthern said...

Inspiring. Hmmmm I started with Very inspiring but I took the hint from Hemingway. See I can be trained.

Shelly said...

Gold. Pure gold.

Christine said...

Fantastic speech! I especially liked the "I am the weirdo" part. We all need to remember that bit of wisdom.

Daisy said...

Words to remember and put into practice. Also the reason I read "Pearl" every day ... a refuge from the storms of life.

Sometimes Daisy uses "very, very, very" and I've talked to her about this. She says it's just who she is, and little dogs sometimes have to bark more. I'll see if I can convince her with a "Pearl says".

Daisy's Barbara

Pearl said...

:-)

Use what you like MikeP.

And thank you. I wish I had recorded myself -- and the students.

Delores said...

Great speech....terrific advice. Just one note.....I come here because experience tells me I am going to have a wonderful time. I would read the whole post if it took me half an hour or more.

Susan Kane said...

A good blog post. Hope all listened.

George Turnbull said...

Well said Pearlchen!

I think you're pretty dammed good at ... err ... whatever it is you do.

But that cat of yours is a darned fine writer!

George Turnbull said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rose said...

I like the part about being a weirdo too. And I liked all of it! Thanks for sharing it. :)

joeh said...

Hmmm...an analytical practical Pearl dishing out some very good advise.

Excellent...now go back to being Pearl!

fishducky said...

Perfect--but I would read YOUR posts regardless of the length!!

Joanne Noragon said...

Nicely done.
I suppose you're saving the audience questions for blog posts.

Camille said...

Yup. What Delores said. Wish I could take the time to comment more often, but I do turn up every day to read. Every single day. You have a gift Pearly girl.

jenny_o said...

I like your advice. I'm delighted that you're getting to share it with new writers.

And I'm another of your readers who would read no matter how long the material. Well, as long as I could take a break for meals, that is.

Douglas said...

Somewhere a student is loading a video on YouTube of you making that speech. I will be searching for it.
Signed: Your Secret Stalker

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

One of the best pieces of writing honest stuff that I've read in a long time. WIsh I could have heard you in person.
From, Another Weirdo

bill lisleman said...

Good advice
"Everyone is somebody’s weirdo" - I might put that on T-shirt.

Ian Lidster said...

'Everyone is somebody's weirdo." Wasn't that a song by Connie Francis?

But seriously, dollink, I loved it and I would have loved to hear you deliver it. And if I were still teaching creative writing I'd print it off and give it to my students and tell them this is wonderful advice from 'my friend'. You and EB White, I say.

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

Well, I know I am one of the one who's been BEGGING you for this information for 2 years now. I was going to leave you some smart-azz comment, but I can't. THANK YOU!
You just leave all the cussin' and rantin' to me, Pearlie . . .
;)

Elephant's Child said...

You are a drug of addiction. And too much would never be enough.

Daisy said...

Well done, Pearl! :)

Buttons said...

Bravo Bravo Bravo I very very much loved this. Edit oh yeah got it:) Well done my friend. B

klahanie said...

Aha human, Pearl,

I skimmed, um I thoroughly read your entire posting. Thank goodness it wasn't one of those postings that goes on and on and on and...

I don't get 'pawlitical'. That would not be good. Good to read another one of your must-read postings.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! :)

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Interesting things are in here. I will take the time to explore further. Thanks for the visit to my abode.

Gigi said...

Oh "Pearl" I would have paid good money to have heard this in person!

You, my dear, have done your best to spur on the next generation of blogger/writers - if they don't recognize the golden nuggets that you offered them...well, then shame on them.

As for us old geezers - we know gold when we see it.

Launna said...

This is awesome advise Pearl, I was thinking about this just as a a blogger and from my first post until today. What a difference and also I read my things over and over, if I feel something from them, other people surely will. Great post girl :)

Christian at Point Counter-Point Point Point said...

Great speech! I think it was the right decision to do it without any farting.

Linda O'Connell said...

I'm sure you left a wonderful impression, and now you have a hundred more followers :)

Rosemary Nickerson said...

Sounds like no-nonsense-Pearl advice, practical and easy to follow. Thanks.

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

The thing that I love most about your writing is how clean it is. How much time, typically, do you spend on a post? I've wondered that since I started reading your posts. I am sure you are as busy as all of us and yet you manage to post every day, which I think is so amazing. I thought, well, maybe she's a genius and she jots this stuff down on her coffee breaks.

Chelle Blögger said...

Best blog post ever. Seriously. I love every word of this!

Rose L said...

WHAT!?!? No real muses???? Dang, then I only have myself to blame for my writers' block.

Geo. said...

Pearl, how I would love to have been part of that audience!

Kymbo Whitford said...

Hey, you said up to 400 words...so I read 400 words then stopped.
Wasn't much fun because now I dont know what it was about, I'll have to come back tomorrow and read the rest...

River said...

A veritable fountain of information, thank you. I would add that as well as getting rid of the "very's", get rid of some "that's" too. A hint I learned from another blogger.
I appreciated your comment on my Wednesday's Words on a Friday post, have you read many of these? (I do one most Fridays). I'd like an honest opinion. I've recently signed up for a Creative Writing Course, it starts next month, I want to learn how I can expand on those short Friday stories without copying every other book already out there.
I love your blog and come here because you make me laugh and think, sometimes I get ideas I never would have thought of.

HOOTIN ANNI said...

I swear...I was reading along with pleasure 'listening' to your thoughts, the along came these words:

"Everyone is somebody’s weirdo."

Those words instigated me bursting out in song....

the walking man said...

Seeing as I am not sure you read comments this far down, I feel free to write what I will. Writing is part skill and part natural instinct. The craft of it comes in honing the point where the two cross. I never wanted more than to be a journeyman user of language.

Pearl said...

I always read the comments -- I just don't always get a chance to comment on them.

And how long do I spend on a post? Anywhere between 45 minutes and two hours. Some come easier than others. The funny thing about that, though, is that the "hard" ones, the ones that didn't come very easily, are indiscernible from the ones that came easily. Because I write so much and rarely have a chance to look back, it's strange, when I do go back, to find myself laughing and unable to remember which ones were slow to write and which ones came in a burst...

Diane Tolley said...

Oh this is perfect! I would have loved to have been there! My motto: Be informative. Be funny. Be brief. Occasionally, I hit all three...

Perpetua said...

Such good advice, pearl, and like the best advice the fruit of long experience. The students will have recognised that you know what you're talking about and I wish I could have been among them to hear you. My lecturers were never as much fun as this. :-)

Jen said...

Fantastic.

Reminds me of Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. Ever read it? She's got a whole chapter on the "shitty first draft." Didn't know she owed it to Hemmingway.

I rant, but that's OK because nobody reads my blog. (Hmm ... maybe there's a connection ...) anyway, some of us blog so that we won't rant anywhere else.