Eight Ways to Improve Your Writing*

Six months ago, my career as a mountain bike coach ended with a sloppy tumble over the handlebars. My coaching stint was on its final lap anyway, this was Eli’s sunset season on the team. Now he’s building his own cadre of riding partners as a budding adult. And I got an extra forty-five days of freedom. Sure, lots of pain, but also lots of free time. Time I didn’t want to squander by not planning ahead. I made a list of focus areas to pursue.

  1. Fitness
  2. Writing
  3. Learning

I put five to ten subtopics under each category. Fitness has ten—I’m killing that category. Running, lifting, spinning, biking. It’s been a long while since I felt this fit. Writing has eight subtopics, but I’m crossing them off the list at a pretty good clip. I think I mentioned my planned foray into a writers’ group. Fail… miserable fail. The people in the group didn’t understand my writing. They took my sarcasm literally.  They found my irreverence offensive. I’m not too proud to consider that maybe my writing sucked, but if you need to explain every joke, what’s the fun in telling them. I went to one meeting.

I toy with joining the First Friday Poetry Group, but every month I chicken out. I worry that I won’t understand the other poets and poems, that I’ll be bored, that I’ll be too anxious to read, too anxious to talk with the other people in the room. I worry that my poetry is childish. The email comes one week prior: Join us next Friday at 7:00pm for featured reader Joe Poet upstairs at the Ragged Edge Coffeehouse. We begin with a poetry open mic and then move on to our feature. And I think okay, this is the month. And then I bail. Two of the months, I even printed out my poem to read, but I changed my mind by dinnertime.

I thought I might experiment with podcasting. I like to listen, maybe I’d like to make one, too. I recorded myself reading my stories, a couple of funny ones, and posted them on Spotify. And I waited. Other than my family, I don’t think anyone ever listened. Every month or so I pop by the stats. Five listens on one, seven on the other. I suspect seven or eight of those are me, obsessively looking for mistakes. I didn’t enjoy making the podcasts anyway. It made my armpits sweat.

Last night, Susan called from the next room: “There’s a Crafting Creative Nonfiction class starting in two weeks at the Arts Council.” Writers will learn about literary journalism, memoir, and the personal essay. Each class will have a writing prompt for the genre as well as a mini craft lesson. I’m not sure about learning the genres and the mini craft lesson. It’s possible I’ve covered all of this in prior classes or in books, but a refresher never hurts. The prompts excite me, and it will be fun to meet some other local writers.

In group situations, I have a tendency to close myself off from others, recede into my own thoughts, and display an unwelcoming vibe. I’ll do my best to leave that at the door. I’ll try to be friendly from the start. I’m running out of subtopics. My remaining ideas are more global: polishing, publishing, giving and getting feedback. I’d really like to follow through on one of the writing suggestions I gave myself.

Stay tuned, more to come.

* Sorry if you were attracted by the title. It’s something of a joke. I’m always amazed at how many WordPress posts start with “Blank Ways to…” Oops. there I go explaining my jokes again.

29 thoughts on “Eight Ways to Improve Your Writing*

  1. My coaching stint was on its final lap anyway. I find your humor in a statement like that appealing. It’s self deprecating but also creative to the content. List or no list, for seeming like a laid back guy you go after shit or growth mindset for the fancy people. Keep your writing real and I’ll keep reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wouldn’t label you an esoteric comedian, so I think that group you mentioned was probably full of tone deaf people. Yes some of your jokes may be subtle, but, hell man, that’s why I’m reading.
    I’m now off to read that poem/ link.
    As to Spotify, I only activated it to listen to you when you first mentioned it but I don’t use that medium.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Listicle type titles are a common hook, as are promises to “10x” this or that…. anyway… it’s great that you have time and the will to explore and grow. And as long as *you* are fulfilled by the writing, it doesn’t really matter if the audience doesn’t get it. They just aren’t your audience. It’s not for them. Simple as that. (Finding the right folks, though, is another story…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • “as long as *you* are fulfilled” This gets to the crux of it. I spend way too much time worrying about other’s reaction to what I write. Clearly, *I* am first and foremost my primary audience. I need to remember that as I try to build the craft.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarcasm is my native language 😉 I’ve always enjoyed your humor and your posts. I don’t know anything about poetry except Haiku… it’s pretty straightforward. I can do random rhyming stuff, but that’s my limit. The new class that Susan found sounds perfect for you. I hope you meet some cool, like-minded folks.

    How’s the weight-loss going? If you’re nailing the fitness, I’m guessing your pants size is showing it. 💪

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s a true disconnect between the exercise and the weight. I’ve made no progress, but I’m being more mindful about what I eat. That’s a good first step. Part of the problem is that there is always tasty crap lying around. Hard to be ‘good’ when dinner is delicious and a plate of chocolate chip cookies beckon after dinner. Double down, Jeff, Double down.


  5. Good job with the list, that’s very focused and seems to be working. Congrats! You should celebrate that. And feel free to reach out if you ever want to swap casual writing project work or talk 1:1 too. I’ve found that fun and productive with my friend Bruce this past winter.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your description of sarcasm, humour, and joke explanation, made me laugh, Jeff. I have had similar experiences at writing groups but was more persistent, in getting the humour (or sarcasm) to stick. It takes a while to find a writing group that you can feel comfortable with. I tried many before I found one where I was inspired and motivated to keep returning. Just keep trying, one will come. If not, you could always start your own.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It seems like you’re doing well with your fitness, Jeff. That can only be a good thing as long as you don’t overdo it. As for writing groups, I’ve been trying to attend a monthly writing group at the library in my town. It’s called Writebulb, which I thought was rather clever. I set myself up every month on Saturday morning, laptop and notepad in hand, courage in my left pocket, and make my way down there. I’ve even got as far as the library entrance … and then, I chicken out. I don’t think I’ll be good enough; I don’t understand other people’s poetry or humour. I’m hopeless at flash fiction; I hate reading aloud etc. Similar to you, in fact. Perhaps, we should make a pact; I’ll go if you will. What d’you think 😉? P.S. I remember hearing your voice on WP once; you shared a recording of something you’d written, and I commented that I didn’t expect you to have an American accent (silly of me, I know). I thought you had a great speaking voice and tone for reading out loud. I listened to your Spotify tracks then and really liked both of them. Are there more than two now?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I hate to be an insufferable snob…but…nowadays, facilitated by the digital age, way more folks than should feel the call of (professional) writing and photography. I’ve found the Midwest rather humorless with many incapable of understanding sarcasm (or multisyllabic words). I’ve also come to believe that it’s difficult to feel intellectual common ground with people a lot (I’m guessing, quantitatively) dumber.

    Liked by 1 person

      • You in Pennsatucky? I’m curating an exhibition at Frick-Pitt and have been spending time working on it in the Trumpland outside State College. No lumping, but I do find a lot less intelligent folks difficult to communicate about spiritual/intellectual topics. Anyway, back to the writing salt mine!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Gettysburg. It’s pretty Trumpy here but my circles are nonprofit employees and the fitness crowd so I don’t frequently intersect with Trumpers (unless I’m flying off the handle at someone in the letters to the editor section of the Gettysburg Times).

          Liked by 1 person

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