Journal

Aesop’s Fables, Revisited

I was reading to my son from a book of Aesop’s fables and came upon the one about the fox and the grapes. To make a short story even shorter (spoilers, haha!), the fox belittles the grapes because they are out of his reach. Those grapes are probably sour anyway, he thinks bitterly. I’m not sure what message my son got out of the story. He was too busy slapping his drool-coated hands all over the book.

Then I realized something as I tried to pull the page out of his slippery hand so I could turn to the next story. I’m an awful lot like that fox. If somebody has a nice house, I always think, Who the hell would want to pay for that huge house, to heat it and cool it and clean it? I’m glad I don’t live there. Or people who are always going on trips. I wonder if Dave Ramsey is right… did they most likely go into debt to pay for that vacation? Haha, suckers! Internally, I’m envious of these people’s nice things.

I try to pass my envy off as gratitude for what I have, but it’s really just bitterness. One of the hardest things for me to do is to be happy about another person’s success. Their gain literally takes nothing from me, but it still affects me, as if I’ve fallen down a notch on a ranking list that exists only in my head.

Count your blessings! they say, and for me, that involves going home and being happy with my family and forgetting all about the outside world, once again proving the point that others’ success and material possessions have nothing to do with me at all. It is all so easily forgotten.

So with that said, my new goal for the next couple weeks is to purposely try to be genuinely happy for others, rather than belittle them. And be more grateful for the good things that I have, which are many.

Writing

Freewriting

One of the lies that is often told to writers is that to write, you must have lots and lots of time. The reality is that pretty much nobody has lots and lots of time, so wannabe writers have to make do with 5- or 10-minute intervals here and there. If you are on a time crunch, sometimes the best thing you can do is freewrite, or just write whatever comes to mind, whether it’s good or bad or just a rant about how little time you have to actually do “real writing.”

Good ideas can come from freewriting. Many wannabe writers believe that good ideas will strike out of nowhere, and that does sometimes happen, but to attract more ideas, a writer actually has to, well, write. Then the muse is fully awakened and your subconscious (is that the same as the muse?) can work on more interesting ideas behind the scenes. So when you get a chance to freewrite, you may find that your stream of consciousness holds something valuable.

So don’t discredit freewriting as “not real writing.” Anything that can help you arrive at the next great idea is worth the time spent, even though that time may not be the idyllic (and envied) 2-hour stretch that many “real” writers claim to have.

Writing

Meaningless Word Counts

This post was Freshly Pressed awhile back, and I just got around to reading it now. It’s geared to academic writing, but I can’t help but feel that it relates to any kind of writing. The point of the post is that when writing a thesis or some other kind of academic paper, getting a high word count doesn’t mean anything because if you’re just getting words on the page and not focusing on what you’re actually writing, then you’re not helping yourself.

I’ve said before on this blog that I am excellent at getting extremely high word counts, but I’m bad at editing my own stuff. That’s mostly because I tell myself that I’ll go back and edit “later,” but “later” never comes because I find something else to write. So a lot of my stuff never gets past the first draft stage, and because it is all written very hastily, I will in all likelihood end up trashing 95% of it once (if?) I do actually get around to editing.

That’s not to say that NaNoWriMo and other incentives to rack up huge word counts are bad. As the author of this post says, writing just to write can get you into the habit of writing and can break your fear of the blank page. That’s a valuable thing, especially for new or young writers.

So that made me think of why many writers start out with short stories. They gives them practice with getting the words down and with editing and polishing something short and more manageable than a novel. My excuse for not writing short stories is that I don’t have enough ideas, and I don’t like developing a character in the space of a short story when I could have used that same character in a novel. So on the rare occasions when I do write a short story, I use “pre-existing” characters, so I know who they are when I sit down to write.

Anyway, I think what the author of the original post wanted to say was that writing is basically thinking about your subject matter and condensing your thoughts so they can be easily understood and shared. In the end, that has very little to do with a word count. It all goes back to this common saying: “All writing is rewriting.” The first draft is just the tip of the iceberg of revision, rewriting, and rework.

(By the way, the word count of this post is 417, but who’s counting?) 🙂