We are all writers. Somewhere around second grade, Mrs. McGillicuddy handed out fat tablets of lined paper and pencils, and asked us to copy the letters on the long, rainbow-colored chart taped to the top of the blackboard.

So we did, and lo! We were writers.

We learned to print our names. Soon we could do it in longhand, which our teacher called “cursive writing.” I, like some of you, perhaps, learned to do it the hard way, looping slanted letters on the familiar lined paper over and over (under threat of Sister Mary Frances’ ruler across the knuckles) until I got it write right.

Most of us learned to spell and punctuate. And some even learned to diagram.

We mastered about the parts of speech, and discovered how to string them together into sentences and paragraphs.

As much as we hated it, we produced essays and term papers (with varying degrees of success). Despite ourselves, we became better writers with each exercise.

Then, book reports opened new doors for us. We stepped into the world of good writing and traveled to exciting places. We discovered that the right words brought together in the right way created magic.

And some of us decided to become magicians ourselves.

After all, we know how to write, right?  Easy peasy.

So here we are. It’s not turned out to be quite as easy as we thought, has it?

Sentences, paragraphs and punctuation come easily now. In fact, mastery of the rules allows the occasional breaking of those rules. But it turns out there is so much more to making magic than stringing words and sentences together.

Plot and sub-plot, characters and their development, place and time: all these must somehow sing in concert to create a story. And it doesn’t stop there, as I suspect you know all too well. Tone and voice, tense and tension, pace and point of view… there are dozens of other elements of writing and style that stand between a boring bunch of words and a spellbinding story. And that doesn’t even take into account all the things a writer should avoid, like passive voice, exposition, Deus Ex Machina. (Yeah, I know, me neither.)

How to remember them all, especially at a time when remembering to feed the cat is a challenge?

The more I write, the better I get (I think) at doing it. The better I get, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much that I don’t know. The more I don’t know, the more I read to learn. And the more I read, the worse I get (I think) relative to what really is good.

I’m moving backwards so fast, I’m ready to look for a fat, lined pad to practice my loopy letters on.

Maybe that’s the best way to become a better writer.


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5 Responses to Writer

  1. Those lined pages, I remember them so vividly. We learned Palmer method cursive and had yearly contests from the diocese for all Catholic schools. Oh how I practiced and hoped to win an award for penmanship. I never did but I practiced faithfully. It does seem simple now compared with all else that is really important in good writing. You bring back memories!

    • PattiKen says:

      I bet you and I write very much alike, Mary. And like me, I bet you can pick out the Palmer Method in a heartbeat. I wish creative writing were that straightforward, and that easy.

  2. Tara R. says:

    I used to LOVE diagramming sentences. It was like a puzzle and I thought it great fun to find the most complicated sentences to deconstruct.

    I don’t think schools teach diagramming any longer, and now there is a push to do away with teaching cursive. Alas…

    • Patti says:

      I loved diagramming too, Tara. I think it’s a shame they no longer teach it. I learned so much from it. I still use it mentally sometimes when I’m not sure about where a word should go or what part of speech it is.

  3. Titanium says:

    I had the pleasure of teaching diagramming (and many other language niceties) to middle scholars, once upon a time, not so very long ago. In the teaching of it all, I learned how much I didn’t know… the kids actually enjoyed English class. Of course, I used a method that called for stepping on their toes when they messed up. They thought that was awesome. I assigned each kid a sentence position: noun, verb, adverb… and kept it rolling until the whole room was part of the diagram and the desks were the lines.

    I miss the one-room school house approach.

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