On Writing: a letter to a friend

ABOUT WRITING: A letter to a friend, 2005.

You are a gifted storyteller, my friend. That point is well established and unquestioned. In my opinion, the goal of your current endeavor should be to translate that natural ability into print in a manner that it retains the uniqueness of “you.”

To be able to write so that you sound like yourself is worth achieving in my opinion, as it is with music and finding your own musical voice on any given instrument. It is, after all, the one single thing that distinguishes you from anyone else, as there is no one else exactly like you. As you already have a “story-teller” voice, play to that strength in your fiction writing and it will be enhanced many-fold thereby.

At this stage of your project, rather than do any editing or proofreading etc., I prefer to offer you a part of my writing hat as a published author (Entrepreneur Magazine, Sales and Marketing Magazine, Sales Doctor Magazine) and others around the world. This may be of value as you begin your writing journey and you can use or ignore it as you choose. It may not align with your writing style, as my work has been mostly business-related non-fiction. Whatever works for you is the route to take following the guidelines as above.

There are two (at least) ways of approaching writing, at least in my experience. Though I have no skill in writing fiction, save one short piece as an introduction to my other works, I’ll tell you the way I work; I may include the “toe in the water” little piece of fiction that I did, for your amusement and possible edification (a word I have grown to love and use far too often, at least according to my wife!). My writings all begin with an idea, which spurs a concept that I consider would be personally applicable and yet have universal appeal. But, I’m not so firmly wedded to that idea that it can’t develop into something else as the process moves forward. In fact, I consider this as part of the overall creative process. It happens all the time in my composing in producing my albums, so I figured, why should it not apply here as well?

Consequently, I rarely do a complete outline before I begin and if I do happen to have one, it is flexible. I also don’t re-write or edit too heavily at the beginning. It is my experience that the “creative muse” is fickle. I use it while it is available and re-write later. It is not something that can be forced or made to appear with effort. It is either there or it’s not. At least that is my experience. I do know that it has something to do with the amount of “noise” in one’s life at any given moment. Incomplete cycles also play a part as “hidden attention grabbers,” which seem to present barriers to the appearance of any semblance of a muse. But, when I feel like writing, I’m extremely efficient and productive. When I don’t feel like writing, I either work on practicing my trumpet or composing on piano and it balances things out.

For various reasons, since I have been in CA on this trip, I have written over ten new pieces of varying length from a few hundred words to five thousand words and I’m currently working on a new expanded piece as I write this. At this time, I write every day to take advantage of the momentum when it appears . . . and now’s the time evidently.

On the other hand, some very successful writers will fiddle with the first paragraph endlessly until it is just right, and only then proceed with the rest of the work. I have seen musicians in the studio also spend two weeks or more on the first thirty seconds (or less) of a tune before working on the remainder. Again, whatever works for you is the key.

Another thing I have found useful is that if I think of a phrase or a title of a work that interests me, I save it in a file. Then on occasion, I pull these out and see if anything further develops from it, is so, I begin a piece and see where it goes. At times, it goes no further than a paragraph or two, so I leave it at that and work on something else, just as I do when composing music where I find an interesting phrase or chord or pattern and like it for no other reason than it’s interesting to me. I’ll save it and develop it when it’s ready to appear.

For example, “reason d’etre” was one of these titles/phrases that caught my imagination and I ended up writing a great article on that concept. “Toxic connections” was another that developed into a very worthy piece. “Academia” ended up being a very interesting story with a moral. “Storm petrel,” has captured my imagination for a piece yet to be written. A turn of phrase might come to my mind such as, “It has about as much aesthetic flavor as a public urinal,” which might spur a further essay, though so far it hasn’t. Another is “coup d’état” which for some reason (I never second-guess why) it caught my attention so I simply save it until the rest of the piece “develops,” or not.

I might (as I have done) decide to write the longest sentence I’ve ever done and make it all hang together with a universal message, just for the challenge of seeing if I could do it. (But then, again according to my wife, I’m sort of obsessive about these things, so it may not be recommended for everyone).

I save all my half-finished pieces and revisions of re-writes that I do (I literally have thousands of these!), as they are my resources to rely on when I’m dry to any new idea at some moment. Also, when the font of creative production strikes me, I grab one of these old under-developed ideas and wrap it up. Of course, these are just a small part of my ideas, thoughts, ramblings and experiences in this area.

Much more can be written about it, but I’d rather spend the time writing rather than writing about writing . . . at least for now! If you find any slight value in anything I’ve mentioned, I’ll be happy. If not, you can always use the “delete” button on the computer for its intended purpose!

Dan Jacobs, Dec. 2005

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