“You’ll Get An F.”

“What?” I said out loud to nobody, then laughed. “An F? Moi? Can’t be. She must have me mixed up with one of her students who can’t write.”

“I’m your straight-A, remember?” I said to the email, which I had finally received (years ago) from my undergraduate writing teacher on my essay proposal. (We had to send in a proposal of the topic about which we intended to write, before starting our term paper for the class.)

For the perfectionist that I have been since kindergarten, to be threatened with an F was a blow to the chest that took my breath away. She must have made a mistake (though I took an F years later in graduate school for refusing to edit pornography…but that’s another story).

I sat down, ready to write the teacher back and complain that she had the wrong student, but then took a moment to read further into her email, and that’s when I saw the reason for her indictment.

Her reason for giving a straight-A writing student an F for a term-paper topic was explainable in one word. You might say she gave me the F for Focus (or the lack thereof).

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

What was the topic I proposed that she said would bring me an F? Introversion—being an introvert in an extraverted world. She said it was too broad.

She said if I were planning a book-length work on the topic, it might have been acceptable because each chapter could address a different aspect of the issue, but for an article it was much too broad.

Getting Warmer

So after hours of deliberation I came up with a subject more specific: Being an introvert in the typically extravert world of the workplace. I sent it back to her, confident, even smug, satisfied that I’d given her what she wanted, and ready to start on my term paper – until I received her prompt reply: “You’ll still get an F.”

“What? Are you kidding me!” I yelled at the computer. As I read through her email I saw that word again: “Focus. Bring it down to something much more specific,” she wrote. “A specific problem with at least one specific solution.”

I had thought being an introvert in an extraverted world was specific. In my mind, I was zooming in on introverts versus the rest of the world of categories out there into which you can slip almost all the people you encounter, such as being short in a world of tall people, being blond, being overweight, being a vegetarian among carnivores (or vice versa). The list is endless.

Just a Little Bit Closer

So I wrote down my key word: Introverts. Okay, so what’s their problem? Being one myself, I had no shortage of a list of problems, such as: malls, busy restaurants or other public places; parties; networking events; the workplace!

And that’s where I landed. For me, the workplace has always been an office of one type or another or a classroom, with coworkers, office politics, fellow teachers and admin with whom to mix in the break and conference rooms, whether one wanted to or not.

But the more I looked at it, the more I saw that others will have workplaces such as various outdoor settings, factories, and so many other different kinds of backdrops. Widening my thinking and realizing this fact showed me why “introverts in the workplace” was still too general.

After going over the initial research I had done for my introvert proposal, and writing different versions of topics in order to find one that clicked, the title at which I arrived and that she accepted as being focused enough was “How Introverts Can Survive and Thrive in the Office”.

V Is for Vortex

When I think about it now, I view it as an upside-down triangle, an inverted vortex or V, to represent the situation.

At the top of the vortex is the topic at its most general, introversion versus extraversion.

At the bottom is the specific application on which I finally landed, the introvert surviving and thriving the extravert office.

In the middle somewhere is the introvert in the more generalized “workplace”, and so many other aspects of introversion.

In Summary

1. Introvert versus extravert world: Too broad.

2. Introvert in workplace: Still too broad.

3. How an introvert not only gets by, but thrives, in what is considered to be a hostile environment to most introverts—the office, with all its implications: Specific.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It…

Other similar approaches might have been: How an introvert spouse survives and thrives an extravert husband or wife, or the best ways to nurture your introverted child in an extraverted school environment.

There are many possibilities along the spectrum, but the narrow point of focus at the bottom of the vortex is the goal. However it gets narrowed on the way down, in the end it reaches as fine an application as possible.

It should be obvious that this idea of focus and the inverted vortex is not just for college papers or grades. This should guide all writers whenever we sit down to approach any given topic.

The Enemy: Generalization

Beware generalization in all its manifestations in writing—not just regarding subject but with every word you commit to paper or screen, within any sentence, paragraph, chapter, book—generalization is always a danger by which to be enticed. I say enticed, because to generalize is to take the easy route.

I will say, I do disagree with my undergrad writing instructor back then on her comment that my general topic might have been okay for a book-length work, though she could have been saying that to lessen the blow of pointing out my bad choice for the proposal. But, depending on the kind of book a writer was proposing, I’d normally tell a student the same thing she told me: Book-length or not, it’s too broad.

One More Thing

In case you were wondering, I wrote the paper using citations from articles and books on the subject, and she must have been happy with my approach and conclusions, because when it was all over, I got an A on the finished paper. (I also learned a few things from my research, being an introvert myself.)

And I thanked the nice lady for her guidance and warnings, instead of just letting me go ahead with my too-general topic and getting the F, breaking my (almost) perfect record.

Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!

Perfectionism Can Kill…A Blogger

Blogging is to writing as digital photography is to a Brownie camera.  One fast, the other slow(er).   With blogging there’s a great deficit of time in which to ponder the better way to say a thing, much less the best way.  Blogging is the fast(er) way to write many things.

Perfectionism we already know can be a killer, and is.  To start blogging I had to (and still have to daily—I’m working on it) put aside my Perfectionism; otherwise there was no way it could happen.  And being an editor, I can be annoying, including to myself, doing things like editing birthday cards (“Shouldn’t birthday be capitalized?”).  Even my lists of things to do are not safe—vacuum, dust…should it be and/or dust?

So when it comes to writing blogs which by definition should be posted in a timely manner on a regular basis, I freeze.  I can’t possibly write something perfect so fast or so regularly! (should that be and/or regularly?)  Yes, Hemingway said, “The only real writing is rewriting.”  Bless his heart.  I use that particular quote of his in almost every one of my writing classes and my students hate me for it.  But I suppose anything can be overdone. 

(I hope there won’t be any typos in this post).  Any writing teacher or editor knows the fear of typos in everyday correspondence, whether email, text, or social media, especially with students or clients (Should that be and/or clients? Or students/clients.)

Then there’s consistency.  Should I do one or two spaces after each period or question mark?  And whichever I chose, have I done the same for the duration of the article?  Does anybody care?  And isn’t that the real question?  (I went with two spaces.  I hope to be consistent throughout this post.) 

Now, I admit I abhor sloppy work, whether it’s my own or someone else’s.  And everybody knows there’s too much of that around.  In these days of knocking out a few paragraphs and sending it out into the ether without looking back, there can be frightening results which make us would-be-bloggers-if-we-weren’t-perfectionists glad we’re not out there in the arena.

Now, I have relaxed my attitude about it a bit, and my standards.  For example, I don’t ignore everything a blogger (or anyone else) writes because he or she wrote “their tired” anymore.  And no longer will I jump away from a post until I come across at least, say, five or so misspelled words.  But I do maintain some limits.

My greatest fear though, as a perfectionist, even as I write this, is that after I finish this post and proofread it several times, I’ll still miss something that will be caught by someone out there who will say, “See!  Hypocrite!  Your just as sloppy as we are!”  (yes, that typo is intentional, before you get ready to leave me a mean comment).

I remember a student in one of my classes actually squealed and jumped with joy when she apparently caught me in a mistake.  Did I ever say I was perfect?  Feel sorry for editors.  And isn’t that the whole kick of Perfectionism?  I mean, isn’t the meaning of Perfectionism that perfectionists know they’re not perfect (of course, nobody is), but they keep trying to be.  And when it keeps becoming evident that they’re not perfect, and can’t be, they want to quit, or they skip the want-to part, and just quit.  Or worse, they never start.

Of course, Perfectionism can kill all writing, not just blog writing, and all writers, not just bloggers.  And for that reason it’s important to face the beast and scare it off by continuing to write and blog till the cows come home.  We have to learn to appreciate the value and beauty of a rough draft, knowing it won’t stay rough and shouldn’t (most of the time, unless you’re one of those who does polished work the first time around—or one of those who thinks he or she does polished work the first time around.  I’ve known a few of the latter, none of the former).

So here I sit, facing off the beast of Perfectionism and writing anyway, daring to make a fool of myself in the public arena, telling myself it’s more important to write and possibly benefit even one individual out there than it is to stay safe while I cower in the shadow of possible ridicule.

So I blog on, hopeful that all you perfectionists out there don’t proofread this post.  And I haven’t even gotten to Content! (should I have capitalized that?)  

2 Quotes, Stephen King

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

 “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” 
― both quotes from
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 I agree wholeheartedly that when you’re in your first rough draft, keep the door closed, i.e., don’t let others see it until it’s had time to “cook” on the page.

 But after that first draft, it’s time to get tough-skinned and be willing to allow another trusted writer or editor to go over your writing and help you tighten it, with a keen eye for what to keep in and what to throw out.  This is what separates amateurs from seasoned writers.

 Remember, every story you’ve ever read since you were six years old had the input of an editor intermingled with the author’s words throughout.

 Writing is Rewriting.  Hemingway was write … I mean, right.

Day One of Writing/Editing Class

8-28-18– Well, everything went smoothly for Day One of our writing/editing class.

We have a nice group and I’m hoping I didn’t scare anyone away!

Three keywords from the two hours of discussions today:

1 ** FOCUS. Necessary if you have a lot you want to write about and feel frozen, overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start.  Don’t give up.  Choose one particular element of your story and start with that, then relax and give the writing room. It will flow out from there, and your direction will start to present itself.

Focus is also important if you have several stories which you’ve already finished (though still rough drafts) or almost finished.  For the purpose of this class, I’d recommend you choose the one you prefer and begin to read it through, looking for places that need strengthening in one way or another.

2** CHALLENGE. We talked about what a challenge it is, and hard work, to do true writing and rewriting which includes self-editing, which can be painful.  As you read through your own work, the parts that need editing will start to jump out.  And when you’ve read it through, read it through again…and again. :- )  People hate when I say that.

It reminds me of when my mother Libby was teaching sewing or crocheting. She told me, “The thing they hate me for the most is when I say, ‘Rip it out.’”   Right.  Well, I’m not trying to be popular (good thing, you say), but try not to hate me.  I’m just passing on what I’ve learned from all the classic writers before me.

3** MEMOIR A poem a student (Adrienne) wrote for her mother will fit well as part of a memoir anthology because it reflects the writer’s feelings for her mother at the time she wrote it.  Memoir is “softer” than autobiography in that it doesn’t need dates or exact anything.  It can be about impressions, feelings, and outcomes with regard to the events being described.

Memoir is not your life story, though it can be part of someone else’s through your eyes. Memoir is about an event (remember Focus) that changed you and/or your life somehow—you’ll tell us how.

With memoir you should use your own name, though you can change the names of others who appear, if you wish.  If you do, you’d want to note that in an introduction at the beginning of the piece (or book, if book-length). Otherwise, you can write it as a novel “based on a true story”.

(We’ll be discussing memoir at length next Tuesday)

Well, I’ll leave it at that for now. We talked about lots of other things, too, but these are some of the notable points to remember.

Take care and happy writing! :- )

New Class 8-28-18 through 11-6-18

“Writing is revision” — I think it was Hemingway who said that, and that’s what my latest writing class is about.  Rewriting is what separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls in the world of writing. Ask any author, though lots of writers moan a lot when I remind them of this.  They’d prefer to write something, set it aside, then write something else.  :- )

I’m happy to say I am starting a 10-week Let’s Write! writing/editing class at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, CA, Tuesday 8/28/18 through 11/6/18 (with a week off in between), 2 to 4 pm.  Registration will be open until Sept 4th as a courtesy of the Finley Center, since they had the class times listed incorrectly for about a month.

It will be a departure from my usual classes and more advanced in that in the other classes I taught writing and edited the students’ work; but in this class, I will focus on teaching the art of editing, with the students editing their own work at home in between classes, using what they’ve learned, and hopefully saved in their notes, during each of the 2-hour classes.

While in class, students will pair up and edit each other’s work each week, and I myself will take turns in each group throughout the 10 weeks for hands-on direct editing of their projects.

When we’re finished, those who wish to will submit their manuscripts for publication to a Let’s Write! Anthology (main title is yet to be determined). Then, as editor, if the piece is publication-ready without too much editing necessary on my part, I will include it in the anthology.  Of course, each writer keeps all rights to his or her own work and remains free to publish it whenever they like.

And even if a piece is deemed not publication-ready, or if the student decides he or she would rather not publish, the 10 weeks will still be invaluable time spent, gathering experience editing their own work, which a real writer must learn to do.  

Even if a writer hires a professional editor such as myself to fine-tune his work, a manuscript which needs editing on too basic a level will either be denied, or the writer will be charged a much higher fee than normal. So this is an important and necessary skill for every writer to learn and, as with piano lessons or baseball, practice makes perfect.  :- )