The Writer's Workout

Jan Karon is a favorite author of mine. However, her beloved Mitford Series has turned me into someone who too often fantasizes about the idyllic life of a writer. Father Tim’s love interest is a beautiful, self-sufficient woman who inherits a lovely bungalow amid rhododendron bushes in Mitford. She spends her days creating watercolors to illustrate her children’s books. Her biggest problem is how to capture the cuteness of a mole or some other rodent. Then she can sip wine on her patio, buy fresh produce at The Local, and flirt with the “portly priest” who later falls in love with her; they marry and live happily ever after. Well, la te da! Real writers have to exercise. I don’t mean donning yoga pants and prancing around until your heart rate accelerates and perspiration beads around your forehead. The writer’s exercise is sitting at the keyboard or writing pad and working through writing prompts designed to cause the writer to access new ideas. A writing exercise is a warm-up of writing just as a runner’s exercise begins with a warm-up of stretching. It is also something that most writers avoid just as we avoid physical exercise. In fact, we may be driven to actual physical exercise, complete with sweat, to keep from sitting down and attempting to get the creative juices flowing with a writing exercise before tackling a writing project. Writing exercises are not always fun or easy as is evidenced by the following exercise I completed a year ago.

I’ve come to our Writer’s Meet-up where we sit and write, without talking. I’m typing on a “dinosaur” laptop that weighs 10 pounds if it’s an ounce. It has speakers turned on and every few minutes makes some kind of annoying sound to alert me and all around me that I’ve hit a key wrong or it’s found new hardware or a Wi-Fi connection, and I don’t know how to disengage the alarm. The keyboard clicks loudly too, especially the spacebar. And the h key doesn’t seem to work most of the time.

The rules for our writing time are to keep writing and not worry about mistakes. Don’t stop to correct any mistakes. I haven’t taken the time to turn off my “mistake finder” in the Word program, so now I can’t look at te[sic] screen or else I will correct eac and every mistake this broken h key is making, causing all kinds of colored squiggly lines to appear under the text. I’ve finally had to pull the screen of the laptop into an almost closed position so that I can’t see all these mistakes. That’s te copy editor in me. It’s interesting to think back on my life and consider tat I am a content editor and a fairly good copy editor too. Although I discovered in 5th grade that I might have a talent for writing and it was later encouraged in English classes throughout middle school, high school and college, I started out in elementary school as a poor reader and a terrible speller. These deficiencies plagued me even after graduating high school. I remember one of my first jobs as a secretary wen my boss was correcting a letter I had typed, and he asked, “Have you always been suc a poor speller?” That’s really a dumb question. Who starts out as a good speller only to deteriorate into poor spelling? But I was so embarrassed that I began working on my spelling. Mostly I began using words I could spell instead of good words. I was such a poor speller that I couldn’t even find the word in a dictionary.

Once I was watching an episode of “Jeeves and Wooster” taped from PBS. Jeeves was reporting to Wooster about a miscreant boy who had uttered some kind of obscenity at him. Wooster asked, “What did he say?” Jeeves responded, looking down his nose with his signature dignity, “It was opprobrious, sir.” I replayed the line many times trying to hear the word then went to look it up in the dictionary. Ubprobreous . . . obprobreas . . . uprobreus . . . I liked to never have found it. But I persisted and finally discovered the word in Merriam-Webster. It means “scornful; contemptuous.” After going through all that trouble, I then forgot how to spell the word, what it meant, and eventually the word itself. I don’t have much occasion to use it. I guess I could say what is going on in the Middle East today is opprobrious. But then, no one would know what I was talking about.

Now that I’ve finished my book, my first novel, I need to start doing things that real writers do. Like write. I wrote that first book in every way possible that a writer is NOT supposed to write a book. If I want to be a serious writer, and I do, I need to practice and hone my craft, and build my vocabulary so that my writing is not opprobrious. Author Mary DeMuth says to aim for 10,000 hours of BOC. Butt on chair, writing. Too bad it can’t be 10,000 hours of BOC, watching TV. I’d ave tat nailed. No, I wouldn’t even ave tat rigt. I keep falling asleep in my big chair.

Now I need something to write about. I wish my thoughts would spark around like Sheldon Cooper's on The Big Bang Theory. “I’m thinking about trains. Now I’m thinking about nanoparticles. Oh, now I’m back to trains!” I would like to take a train somewhere. I’m seriously afraid of flying, although I did bring myself to board that plane last spring to Denver, Colorado, for work. But I would like to get on a train and go to the Grand Canyon. Since I have no one to travel with, I doubt I ever go. I don’t want to be away from my grandbabies that long anyway. I’m a pathetic grandmother. It’s not that my life revolves around them, but I like seeing them. They are so cute and fun and loving and babies. Give it ten years, I may feel differently. “I can only stay for an hour, dears.”

Okay, I’ve been typing for an hour. Writing is hard work. I think I’ve lost the feeling in my legs from the weight of this laptop. Whose lap did the manufacturer think this thing was going to rest on anyway?

I share this little exercise with you in its draft form so that if you, too, fantasize about that “blockbuster novel” that is within you, be aware that you must first exercise to hone those writing skills. I would now like to take my wine to sip on my patio and gaze over the fence at the nice-looking single man’s yard behind me, but it’s dark thirty out there, not to mention cold. And I think the nice single man has already found a girlfriend. Okay, then: BOC hour two with just 9,998 more to go!


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