Composition 101

By Bill Lee

I suspect that there is the rare person who decides early (grade school, high school?) that he wants to be a writer. That is not to say that there are not such vocational avenues that are  decided early.  Most boys at one time or another have the desire to spend their lives as a cowboy riding horses and shooting the bad guys.  Then there is the always popular writing destination: a policeman.  It seems that most of the early life choices usually involve some kind of action, piloting a plane, attacking a pirate ship, traveling into space but not many think of an exciting life as using a computer to write a column for a newspaper.  I surely didn’t.  I didn’t make it as a cowboy either.

I have been writing a column for the HERALD since 2004 meaning that hundreds have been published. But I almost missed that particular calling since I was well into my seventh decade before I published my first one thanks to an invitation from the Editor.  Of course I had written other things before but mostly in an academic setting.  Most graduate courses require some kind of written composition, and I have had many of those assignments.   But I never thought about writing simply because I wanted to, that is to write about my own personal journeys.  Like most people, I did not think that I had life experiences that would be of interest to anyone to read.  I may be right, but if you write long enough you are bound to stumble on something that would interest others once in awhile. 

Actually I got a little practice by writing letters to the editor mainly on behalf of my brother who at one time was active as a political advocate.  He was a master farmer, but those skills did not transfer to the written word so I got the call.

As I have stated many times, everybody has a story but getting it down on paper is another ball game.  It’s like my saying that everybody can play the piano except there are steps that must be taken in order for this to come about such as lessons and practice.  It’s the same with writing.  While the idea for a story may be present, there are steps that must be followed in order for this to become a reality.  As you might expect, in most cases there are certain levels of competence that you must master in order to have the tools to actually put the words on a piece of paper.  Remember spelling drills, grammar lessons, sentence construction, all tools needed to achieve a reasonably well written composition?  The other major ingredient is practice just like playing the piano or learning to pitch a curve ball.

Always most helpful is to be a good listener.  While you might not have had the experience of, for example, digging a grave, I have actually spoken to a person, a lady, who did that for a living and I wrote about it. And in fact many of my columns are really recitations of stories that have been told to me; I put my spin on them and they appear under my name in the newspaper.

And finally, as important as any other advice I might give, the best way to develop your skills as a writer is to READ good writing.  The finest examples of the writing craft surely enhance your works by your being exposed to the works of writers who set the standard for how it should be done.  Reading and writing go hand in hand.

“With pen and with pencil we’re learning to say

  Nothing, more clearly, every day.”  William Allingham

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