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The more you write, the better it gets

May 16, 2010 | 16 Comments

Hello,
For years I have cleaned the barn on Saturday nights while tuned in to A Prairie Home Companion. My horse also listens and the barn gets calm the moment the show starts. The show has gotten me through some tough times, alone out there on cold nights cleaning that barn, thinking.

My question is about writing.

I have been a state trooper and detective for 20 years and have kept a record of sorts, jotting down things along the way. Real incidents, moments of passion, humanity, fear and sadness all in one.

How to get started?

Paula B.
West Cornwall, CT


--

Look through your notes, Paula, and find an incident that confuses you, something mysterious, maybe embarrassing, maybe horrifying, and start with that. Write those notes on big blank sheets of paper, leaving plenty of space between the lines — sextuple spaced — and fill out the white space with more notes. The more you recall, the more you will remember. Write it all down. Don't bother too much with organization, just jot down details.

While you do that, on a separate sheet of paper write the name Paula Cornwall. She is a horsewoman, a state trooper, a detective, and she is cleaning the barn on a cold night and listening to a man on the radio talk about kind hearts and gentle people and suddenly the phone rings and thirty seconds later she is in her car, racing to the scene, and she is right in the midst of serious trouble. She is you, except she is maybe a little darker, maybe she has some secrets, maybe she's funnier, maybe taller, more glamorous, richer — be playful here —and then let her get to work solving the problem. She will solve it, but only barely.

Write this novel for your own amusement. Keep surprising yourself. Keep rewriting. Read it out loud to yourself and go back and rewrite some more. Focus on dialogue. Make it real. The more you write and the better it gets, the more energy you will get from it — the last stages of rewriting will be the easiest, the most fun.

That's what I think you should do. Start whenever you feel like it. One morning you'll wake up and know that this is the day and off you'll go. Good luck.


16 Comments


Wow. How fun! Start with what you know, make a big soup out of it, keep adding to it, and then play with it! Woohoo!!! You're inspiring me. I've mostly been a haiku style poet, but now I'm thinking I could expand my repertoire. Thanks Garrison!


Well, for starters read The Writers' Almanac for today - the part about Harold Robbins. Then find a quiet spot with a word processor and beer or whatever lubricates your creativity, and GO! I'd locate that quiet spot a far distance from the barn you have been mucking.


I am an old lady with piles of notebooks full of advice to myself. I think your advice to PAULA today applies very well to me. Thank you.

My advice to you is hurtle on. If you love it, do it. You are PHC, but we must not expect the world from you, even if you offer it.


Have always heard there is a book in everyone of us and in the past kept diary's and such, daily ramblings, yet wonder where I'd start. Thanks for the insight. As a retired nurse from the VA, where either by chance or spirit I met many remarkable people who shared their stories and insights, thanks for sharing yours.
PS thanks for the wonderful shows where you have promoted so many artist.


Well said, great advice from GK. Go do it.


One additional thought is to define your goal. It's your goal, so you can make it whatever you want.

If you want to help future law officers then write with exact technical detail.
If you want to have fun, then take liberties with the facts and adapt them to human nature.
If you want to write mysteries, follow the genre formulas.
If you want to write informative expert advice, then write in your area of expertise.

Whatever you choose, get something down on paper. Then add to it and let it sit and then edit and delete ... the personal computer is a wonderful friend for this.

Finally, don't listen to me. I almost flunked freshman English, my next column is due tomorrow morning, and I'm browsing PHC / Public Radio rather than re-writing.

Have fun and Enjoy Life.


thanks to all of the budding writers that keep track of their lives with hand-scrbbled journals and great ideas on cocktail napkins,,,
rude, ragged letters that you could never send..
stories about lost loves or broken hearts...
when you write you look,,not at the truth ,
but what you find inside of you..

when the need to write strikes you,,
do it.
no one will insist it be published...
a person doesn't need film posted on you-tube while jogging to validate the fact that they have been jogging...
no, you knew it.
you were there.
you've created words that can flow, and paint a picture in another persons mind..
yummy!
always,writing will be the best hobby i've ever not made a living at..


FUN and functional advice---wow, it doesn't get better than this! Thanks. Makes me want to grab a ream of paper. :o)


Start by reading the book of Ecclesiastes ...then reassess whether or not you truly want to start down the road of a writers life .... and if you still do why then ... “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.” ....


I ABSOLUTELY LOVE PRARIE HOME COMPANION!I WAS DEVASTATED WHEN I HEARD GARISON HAD A STROKE & THANKED GOD TO FIND HE IS O.K. HE IS THE VOICE OF PRARIE HOME.I KNOW AT SOME POINT,HE WILL BE MUCH DESERVED IN RETIREMENT MUCH TO MY GREAT DISMAY.THERE WILL BE NO REPLACING HIM.YOU CAN HIRE 50 PEOPLE,THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER HIM.HE IS SOOOOO FUNNY,I'M ALMOST CRYING WITH MY RIBS HURTING SOMETIMES.I WISH HE WERE ON OTHER THAN THE WEEKENDS.IT WILL TRULY BE A SAD DAY WHEN HE DECIDES TO TAKE IT EASY,I PROBABLY WOULD BE RELUCTANT TO WANT TO TUNE IN.WHO ON THIS EARTH COULD STAND IN HIS SHOES & BE AT HIS CALIBER? WHERE WILL YOU EVER FIND SUCH TALENT?


Dear Garrison:

I want to thank you on this Memorial Day 2010 for you honoring one of this great nation's hero that gave it all, 1LT Henry Hill, a young United States Army Officer that I knew briefly. I am sure he is missed to this day by all that had the privelege of knowing him. I also want to thank you for who you are and the show that you bring into my home each week.

Sinecely,


COL GH Clark, Jr USA (Ret)


I write for the love of it. Do the same with unrelenting persistence. Read WRITER'S DIGEST at your library, or subscribe to it. Getting literary agents today is difficult, unless you have what they call "a platform," meaning you make your living through constant exposure as a clergyman, college professor, public servant or speaker--someone who has a following. Most publishers won't look at any work unless it is submitted by accredited agents such as members of the American Society of Authors Representatives Representatives. Look for them in the annual WRITER'S MARKET. I've sold major newspapewrs from Rhode Island to California--had my book, THE MEANING OF DREAMS FOR SLEEPING MAN published only after 10 years trying. Pay no attention to critics except those who are highly published themselves. Ignore other critics. Only those who will sign a check for what you write. Follow Hemingway's advice: "Don't stop writing for the day until you know what is coming next." I write best only if I know how it will end before I begin. Any kind of writing for publication is TOUGH. That's when the knives come out. I'm the last collaborator with songwriter Johnny Mercer and a Christmas song called MISTLETOE MANSION, but now that he is dead no publisher is interested in recording it. That's how it is if you try to write for money. I will repeat: write for the love of it as a way of life.


Sometimes, the pleasure of merely saying "I'm a writer" can propel me to a joyous day.

An instructor once told me "Just be sure you're firmly seated...and start!" And all these years later, I'm pretty sure he was right.

I'm just finishing "Lake Wobegon" and marvel at the parallels in our upbringing! Where would we all be without a sense of humor??

Thank you, Mr. Keillor for your advice.



It is still strange, trying to make sense of my sister's agnosticism ( being generous, there) and our former pastor's use of Mr. Keillor's stories for sermon illustrations. At least we like the same music.


Garrison, Marianne and I are so glad you opened this "Forum." We feel "Kindrid" in our 30 some year relationship with your mind, stories and expressed thoughts. Dave


As a budding writer myself, I found that either taking a creative writing class where you write and constructively critique each other's works helps to get the creative juices started. I also was lucky enough to find a critique group that meets once a week where we critique each other's writing. The other members of the group have helped keep me on track with my writing, given me guidance, and become really good friends. It's always good once I've written something to get someone else's opinion who can be objective about it. I don't know what resources there are in Connecticut, but there's bound to be a writers organization up there who can help you connect with others in your area. If you can't find one, e-mail me at Stefanie.Pepin@goHastings.com and I'll see if the local writer's organization down here (Panhandle Professional Writers) can help find you someone to connect with. Happy Writing! Stef


Practically nothing I've read had been worth reading. I only read now to see if anyone can come close. If I had more time to this life I might show everyone how it's done. Why read about other peoples' lives while yours slowly slips away? Who has that kind of time to waste?

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