Forty for Forty – #30. On Writing


It’s been awhile since I posted one of these but I really wanted to make sure the coast was clear after that little April Fools prank  I pulled. Plus, I’m still smarting over “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” book deal.

With this post, we round the bend to the final 10 posts leading to 40. In addition, I am getting dangerously close to 600 full-fledged posts since 2006. Printed out, that’s probably 4 or 5 novels worth. WHAT HAVE I DONE WITH MY LIFE?!?!? 🙂

Which is why I find it fitting to use this post as my pulpit to walk you through my approach to writing. It had to come sooner or later.

Hold on!!! Before you start fleeing for the exits or Twitter, sit for a spell. I don’t mean to lecture or educate – I’m just using this space to prop open yet another window into the ultimate essence of my soul, the ability to scrawl my thoughts. I know, it’s beginning to get a bit drafty in here. Let’s start with this.

Ain’t Is a Word.

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have been visited upon by the Thought Police who yearn to strip ain’t of its power. Ain’t ain’t a word. Hell, ain’t ain’t two words – ain’t ain’t even a conjunction.

Well, I’m here to cry bull. Ain’t is as much a word as any other figure of speech. While Oxford may thumb it’s nose, and while ain’t doesn’t adhere to grammatical conventions, I believe that ain’t – and all other colloquialisms – have their place. They help establish voice.

And that’s really what writing is all about. Raising your voice above the din. Trying to be heard loud and clear. Carving your name in a tree. Making your mark on someone – just one reader – and causing them to pause in thought or nod in agreement or yell “amen to that, brutha” or spit venom right back atcha’. If you establish your voice – your unique fingerprint – it doesn’t matter where the prepositions fall. Bear in mind, this soapbox is nestled in cyberspace. The air is a bit different here and the rules malleable (c’mon y’all saw Neo bend that spoon in the Matrix.) It’s easy if you try.

Establishing your voice is key. I’ve heard from a number of people over the years who report when they read something I wrote, they hear me speaking. Without benefit of a byline, I’ve had people claim that they could pick me out of a line-up. That’s truly the best compliment I can be given. Hell, it turns out I could sell them on imaginary books which reminds me – I really ought to get working on a pyramid scheme.

You see, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be the great American writer. I lack the discipline required to latch myself to proper form and structure. I wrote my fair share of essays in college (always my favorite form of exam) and worked for the school paper covering ‘hard news’ before I realized that I felt boxed in. The Collegian News Desk was a great example of this – and my days working on that paper will rise and shine in a future ‘Forty for Forty’. I give it a week or so – maybe less.

News writing is a strict formula with no wiggle room. The facts must fall into place exactly the same way every time. If you are covering an automobile accident, there’s a specific cadence to your voice. Sentence 1 has Fact A (the what). Sentence 2 has Fact B (the when and where). Sentence 3 has Fact C (the who and how). Next Paragraph. Continue.

I grew disenchanted with that style very quickly which led me to transition to the Arts desk – where I covered films. That afforded me the chance to spread my wings.

I’m often asked why I continue to toil away in the financial industry all these years later. A bittersweet compliment tossed my way several times over the years – after someone has read something I’ve written – is the old standby “You really missed your calling!” I know that those saying it mean it as the highest compliment – they’ve been touched or impressed by something I wrote – yet it’s the proverbial dual-edged sword that carries quite a bit of sting to it. “You missed your calling” imparts a palpable feeling of such finality and hopelessness. There you are, standing on the docks as that last ship pulls away, destination unknown and it’s high-tailing it out of there without you. That’s sad.

Regarding my current occupation, it’s the classic two roads diverged conundrum. Most of us end up taking the beaten path. Seems a bit safer that way. In my case, it was a matter of pure economics. I exited school with a degree in Journalism, a portfolio of clippings and great references from my professors. I also hit the streets with a mountain of financial aid debt, the need to purchase a car, the desire to shelter and feed myself – and I realized very quickly that my station in life did not afford the opportunity to act as a glorified intern for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune or The Patriot Ledger for years while I strove for that big break to the Obits or Police Log. So, I entered into gainful employment with a major financial services company with the solemn pledge that I would toil for one full year before getting back on track in pursuit of my dreams.

18 years later and I’m still here. Of course, I’m not gonna’ play the old “What If?” game. Sure, you can try to apply a bit of revisionist history and say: “What if I went to Hollywood?” and “What if I ended up a java jake at The Coffee Bean & Tea?” and “What if a Half Calf Mocha Macchiato served as my bridge to Bruckheimer?” – but that works the same way in reverse. You walk down one path, you lose the map to the other – and the next thing you know, your alternate reality no longer includes your lovely wife and beautiful children, your precious pup, your home in the country, and your decade plus of irreplaceable memories. My neighbor’s lawn is looking nice and green – but things are pretty lush in my backyard too.

This is why I embrace this site and the tools at my disposal. This keeps me in practice. It keeps the synapses sparking. The thoughts churning. The brain pan buttered.

And there above (and here in this very sentence) I illustrate my philosophy. In order to amplify my voice, I use the English language and its various devices to my own devious means; beginning sentences with ‘and’, dropping sentence fragments (‘The thoughts churning.’) with wild abandon.

That’s the fringe benefit in finding choice real estate in the fantasy land of cyberspace. There are no Zoning Laws – leaving you free to build your thoughts as you see fit. I’m glad I settled in and I have no intention of moving out. I feel comfortable here.

And ain’t that the truth!

Comments now closed (2)

  • Think I liked this one the best thus far. BTW your wirting voice resonates that what makes it truly special.

  • Thanks man!!! And as an added plus, reading this stuff has to be much better than having me stand 3 feet away from you yammering away on all these topics. 😉