Pen-man-ship

shapeyI’ve added a new category for my posts here, this one is the ‘Writing’ selections. I’ve been pondering it for a while, it has turned out to be a subject I do talk about more than I realized, definitely more than I thought I ever would.

I never set out with any intention to write about Writing. I think I didn’t feel qualified, I didn’t think I had the credentials. For the most part I am self-taught. I wasn’t really paying much attention to anything in my time in high school, and a majority of what I have learned about this craft as been picked up since leaving school. I don’t have a degree in English, I have no certification saying I know how to write.

Not that I believe that these official documents actually represent a good education or the honing of ones talent, most of the time I believe that is truly all it is, a piece of paper. It really doesn’t describe anyone’s ability beyond a capacity to memorize facts and take tests effectively. The diploma says you learned how to play the game, by their rules. It doesn’t say you can write.

I know this, I believe this, but I still live on Earth.

Humans still want you to prove your abilities especially if you are attempting to instruct them or advise them. They want to know how you know, and why they should listen. They want to see something stamped and official looking stating you are proficient in your field and capable of pointing people toward the right path.

And here I don’t have much to show, but my work.

Despite this, I have been told on several occasions that I should teach, creative writing or something along this line. I have been asked to pass along my insights on humor, to help people write funnier characters and stories.

Others have said they’d like to learn how to come up with the random sort of ideas I inject into my writings, how to cultivate their originality or imagination.

Teaching on aspects such as these has always felt foreign. The subjects, humor and originality, are so wide and intangible. I don’t know if anyone anywhere can teach anyone else to become funnier, I wouldn’t even know how to approach it; humor is such a pervasive characteristic, for myself anyhow. Before I can even talk about how to attempt to write a joke, I have to reference the countless hours I have spent laughing my ass off. Becoming exposed to Monty Python at too young an age, and every instance since that would instruct to expand on what I found funny. It can get muddy, subjective and philosophical at this point, taste and sensibility come into play.

It could be argued that I have been learning to make my writing funny for over forty years, every little moment of life that made me at least chuckle has been a tiny lesson or example in how to write humor. Before I teach you to write it, I have to teach you to laugh, and how the hell is anyone supposed to pass something like that along to the next guy?

So essentially I’ve always felt unprepared and under dressed, and I didn’t think I had any wisdom worth passing along to other writers.

A couple of facts have forced themselves into my focus recently. I realize that even though my education didn’t come in school or any traditionally recognized avenues, but my dedication and desire to learn and improve, and my persistence to keep swinging this old wooden bat, I have worked hard to learn what I know, and I have studied intently and experimented repeatedly. Sometimes you only discover the right way to do something once you have exhausted every possible wrong idea.

At this point in time it is worth mentioning that I have been writing for twenty-five years now. It is impossible to deny there has been considerable growth and improvement. I have learned quite a few things along the way, and even in this arena I believe I have a few funny stories I can tell.

Hanging out with writers and discussions in the groups have got me thinking a lot more about the craft and artistry and even the mechanics that go into writing. I do have a few things to tell, even if occasionally it is only to tell you what not to do.

Still I am uncertain how one can teach humor or originality, and I am not the guy you would usually turn to for tricky questions of grammar or punctuation. But I have picked up quite a few skills that are worth sharing, even if they can only be passed indirectly. The intangible aspects I can’t quite describe, I will hope they are also transferred, at least laterally, or understood in the subtext. And I really don’t insist that anyone needs to heed what I say, I know I didn’t the first time around. But a lot of my writings about writing have spawned from questions raised by friends and accomplices. I’m not worried about proving my capabilities to anyone except myself. And I think I am finally ready to admit it, maybe I have convinced myself once and for all; I do know what I am doing, writing is a skill I have been learning for forty years, all the thought processes and actions that build up to it, all the skills that go into the art; I add up their totals to equate the task, the craft of creation with the written word.

I do have some stories I can tell and some lessons I can demonstrate. I can inspire, and I can educate, even if the only thing I ever learned was exactly how not to get it right.

 

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

 

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