"Writing Is a Form of Art"


"I will never forget that writing is a form of art that you must practice daily," concluded an English Composition student at the end of our three-hour class at the Buckingham Correctional Center.  

Students were assigned readings from How Philosophy Can Save Your Life, focusing on the topics of Flexibility, Individuality, and Possibility. They did a great job of analyzing ways to make the material useful in their daily lives, tailoring their insights to suit personal circumstances. Our dialogue was spirited and informative. 

But it's our conversation about the writing craft that really got their attention. What intriguing questions they had for the author! I hope that my responses helped. I'm sure that our discussion enhanced my own writing process.

"What can I do when my creative juices stop flowing?" My response: Not much! Sometimes it's necessary to put the writing project aside and clear your mind.  Whenever I do that, I miss it and can't wait to get back to my writing, eager and refreshed.  Also, I recommend setting aside 20-30 minutes a day to write about anything at all, including your temporary writer's block. You'll be writing after all. And that practice, day in and day out, cultivates creativity. 

"How can I get past outside distractions when I'm writing?" My response: "Find 5-10 minutes whenever you can to be still and quiet. After awhile this inner sanctuary will be your writer's retreat, no matter what. And this quiet place can be a refuge any time it's needed.

"My writing is gritty and raw. Do I need to change my style? I can't say what i mean any other way." His classmates assured me that Lonzo had described his writing accurately, though neither he nor they gave me any examples! My response: Maybe you could challenge yourself to find the words that convey gritty and raw in other ways. In the new book I'm writing, I recently spent hours thinking about how to convey one gut-wrenching emotion simply and directly so the reader would feel the same way. I don't want to put off a reader. In fact, I have affection for my readers even though I don't know most of them.

"Do you make notes and an outline before you write? And do you write by hand or on the computer?" My response: Yes! I outline and outline and do it again and again and start over until I've got it right. All of this process I do with a pencil  and eraser, big eraser. By the time I'm ready to write, I use a computer because my pencil can't keep up with the flow of those creative juices. I wrote my first book longhand, but it took 15 years from start to finish. 


"I have the hardest time getting started. Got any tricks?" My response: The first sentence is the hardest for most writers. Don't think of writing a whole book. Whew. Write about something small pertaining to your topic, then another small something. Write about a snail. Write about one flower. When all the little details develop and come together, you'll have your big story.  

"How can I decide what to write about?" My response: Write what you know: Toyota pickup or welding or grandmother.

"When will I know I'm ready to write the book in my head?" My response: If you can state your topic in one sentence, you're good to go. If not, you're still not clear about the book you want to write. You can only write one book, so you must know precisely, absolutely what that one book is. 

Bingo! That's the one suggestion that resonated with them immediately.  Lonzo:  "Fate is flexible. I constantly worry about my style of writing when I really shouldn't, because there are people out there like me. If I do not take a chance, I may never achieve my dream of being a writer.  I can't waste my opportunities. Your whole book described in one sentence tip simplified so much for me."

When arriving and departing Buckingham Correctional Center, a wall of handcuffs stands tall behind the guard.  But I think of the mental freedom possible for these students through their imaginations and practice of the art of writing.

"The title of my book is From Penitentiary to Penthouse." "I'm going to write about me as a grandfather trying to establish a relationship with my grandson." "Play the hand that's been dealt, even if it's unfair. There's my one sentence."

These students, smart and gracious with me, live the nightmare of prison. May they also live the dream of mental freedom.