These were the same kids who diligently armored their bodies every afternoon with helmets and pads on the hottest of September afternoons to push a five hundred pound sled around the football field, while coach LoPresti snarled at them with the sympathy of a South Boston townie—and this they did for two hours everyday--every mistake; every slip of the foot; every wheeze from tired lungs laid out for all to see. They did it because they love the game, and they knew that it was just what you had to do to be a football player. But they didn’t know—even after eight years of schooling—many of them in an elite prep school, is what it takes to be a writer. For these kids, there was no literary equivalent of Tom Brady to inspire their practiced motions; there was no scrimmage at the end of class to showcase their hard fought efforts, and there was no game at the end of the week to make every bruised bone worth the effort. In short, there was no real joy in writing. Writing was just something done in class for a teacher and to the teacher. There was no game, only an endgame—that single grade at the end of each term.
None of us can write well unless we scrimmage in our backyards. If my kids have a pickup soccer game going in the backyard, I won’t rush out back and set up cones for them to practice their dribbling skills. I am simply happy they are out there playing the game they love to play. More than just practicing soccer, they are figuring out on their own how to be a better player. They know the rules; they’ve had plenty of town and school practices, but there is never enough time to play with the joy and abandon of a backyard pickup game. The key to becoming a great writer is to find “joy” in writing—any kind of writing, and to play whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The basic rules of any type of writing and the basic rules of any sport are pretty simple—or at least they should be. The best place to start writing—and find joy in writing—is to write what you like to read. If you love reading the sports section of The Boston Globe, write about sports. If you find yourself reading Gothic romance novels, try your hand at writing a short story in that genre. If you are moved by poetry, write poetry. Imitate who and what you love and who and what inspires you, and you will come to love writing; and, when you begin to love writing, you will willingly find the time to practice the skills you need to become a better writer.
For this weeks writing prompt I want you to do a few things. First, write an entry about what you really like to read. Be specific by naming writers and what type of writing they do. Secondly, try writing a piece in the genre of writing that you know you love. Don’t worry if it is good or bad writing. I’m a horrible basketball player, but I will still play whenever I get the chance for as long as my creaky knees will hold up. Finally, spend an hour or so “practicing” the punctuation skills that are common to all writing. This is like the strength ad aerobic training that is useful for any sport! Start by making your way through the links on the “Punctuation” sidebar on your blog. Begin with comma usage—everything seems to flow out of good comma usage! If you are feeling inspired, read parts of “Elements of Style,” which is also on the sidebar of your blog. Remember that these prompts are just the minimum I expect of you, More is always better, especially if you are enjoying what you write. I know that I enjoy everything you post and comment on the blogs!
The key is to be like those students of mine out on the football field and spend the time to both practice and play. The game is what you write. The crowd is the cheering of the writing community you are in. I know that many of you are off at camps and on vacations, but if you are near a computer, log in, have fun, and be a player.Thanks!
P.S. The conversation with my students all began because they were concerned that I placed a 750 word maximum on their final essay. They wanted me to up it to at least 1000 words, so they could be sure to answer the writing prompt effectively.