Ok, so I’ve been reading a lot about writing.  Character development, plot development, rules, dos and don’ts, word count, page count and so on and on and on and on.  I really appreciate all the hard work that writers have written about writing… but it’s funny, when I’m done,  I always feel like something is missing.  It’s like I’m not being told everything…some hidden writer’s secret.  For a long time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  So, I decided to take a night class from Sandy City on writing to see if I could find this elusive writing attribute … I listened intently to the instructor (we’ll call her Ms. Krump to disguise her true identity) talk about all the nuances of writing… “You can’t do this,” she said. “You can never do that,” she added and then went on and on until I wanted to throw up!  Still the intangible trait was missing.

As I sat in the class filled with middle-aged writer want-a-bees, listening to Krump ramble on and on,  my mind wondered back to a writing class I took while attending Rick’s College in (and I hate to admit it was soooo long ago) 1973.  As with Ms. Krump, that instructor, a thin gaunt woman in her mid-sixties by the looks of her graying hair, talked about all the rules of writing, and then barked out an assignment.  “Write a three page, type written, short story about baseball,” then dismissed us.

A story immediately popped into my young fertile brain.  I tore home, pull out the Smith-Corona electric typewriter with auto whiteout film and started to write my paper.  It was a great little story about a five year old little girl who was infatuated with LA Dodger’s pitcher, Sandy Koufax and dreamed of being a catcher for the team.  I worked on it all weekend long and eagerly turned in my paper on Tuesday, thinking it was a pretty darn good story.   (Keep in mind there were no word processors back in 1973, typewrites didn’t put the little squiggly red lines under a misspelled words and I am a horrible speller.) When I went to class on Thursday my paper came back with a great big “F” on top.  I was crushed.  “The story was good,” I told myself.  Then I looked closer. In the first paragraph the teacher found, and circled, three spelling errors.  After class I approached her and asked what she thought of the story. 

She peered over the top of her reading glasses and cackled in a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard screech, “I only read until I find three spelling errors, then I quit.” 

“So, you only read the first paragraph,” I asked.

 “No,” she shrieked, grabbing my paper. “I only read until I find three spelling or grammar errors. There,” she pointed to a red slash mark in the second sentence. “That’s where I stopped. Didn’t read any further.” Then she gave me a cocky little smile and added, “But, don’t feel bad, sonny.  Most students fail this first assignment.”

“But, what about my story?” I asked.

“I don’t care about your story. The story is irrelevant,” she retorted. “Structure and proper technique is what I care about.  Get the structure right and the story will naturally follow.” Removing her glasses and letting them dangle around her neck on a beaded chain, then pinching the bridge of her nose, she added “I only care about structure and spelling,” a little bit a spittle dribbled from the corner of her lips, “ is a part of structure!”

Dejected, I left the classroom, tossed the paper in the trash and walked directly to the registration office, dropped the class and stopped writing.  For nearly 34 years I stopped writing.

I was pulled out of my daydream when Ms. Krump asked me a question. “I’m sorry, can you ask the question again.”  She repeated her question and I gave some non-descript answer then asked her the following question.

 “When you read one of our papers, how do you evaluate the story vs. the structure?”

“I don’t know what you mean?” she replied.

“Ok, let me put it this way.  Have you ever read a story written by one of your students that was really a good story, despite the fact that it may need some structural work?”

“Well,” she said, turning her back to me, facing the white board and walking towards the front of the classroom. “If it needs structural work, then it’s not a good story,” she turned and looked right at me.  “Is it?”

“Gotcha,” I said, picking up my notebook. “I guess I am in the wrong class. I thought this was a writing class, not a spelling class,” and l left.

The missing link…the illusive writer’s secret… was the story.

I had another instructor, Sonja Farnsworth.  She was my first instructor after I decided to go back to school to get my MBA.  The class was not a writing class, but we did write many papers.  For the third assignment we had to write a paper on personal strengths and weaknesses.  As I sat down at the computer to write the paper a story came into my mind.  At first I dismissed it as it was not what the paper was supposed cover, but after a while I just let the story flow.

When I turned in my paper titled, The Complete Mechanic’s Guide to Life, I added a little note to the instructor.  “I don’t know if this is what you were looking for, but this story just popped into my mind and so here it is.”

When Sonja turned my paper back to me, she had given me an “A” and wrote across the paper, ‘You should publish.’

I recently came across that paper.  As I reread it, I found that the spelling was terrible and the grammar, iffy… but the story, patting myself on the back, was great.

So, if you haven’t figured it out by now, this is all about the story.  I agree that there must be structure to your stories, spelling is important… but how’s the story.  The thing that I really appreciate about Wido Publishing is that they were able to look beyond my weaknesses in structure to see my story lurking in my manuscript. (If we all had perfect structure, grammar and spelling… what would our editors do?)(I’ll get hate mail on that one… hey Kristine?)

My two cents for all you aspiring writers is story first, spelling second.  Sit down.  Write, write, write and write.  Reread, reread, and reread. Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite.  Don’t worry if your chapters are too short or two long.  Don’t worry about word counts and paragraph breaks. 

Ernst Hemingway’s goal was to write one thousand words a day.  That’s about five pages, double spaced.  That’s easy to do.  Dan Brown’s goal has been five hundred words a day.  That is even easier.  Whatever it is, start writing. Writing a thousand words a day, you can complete a rough draft — three hundred page manuscript in three months.  That’s dang good.

Remember, story first, write five hundred to a thousand words a day, and get that story out of your head and on to the paper. Then you can work on structure.

(This story has 1208 words)

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There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

We are not trying to entertain the critics. I’ll take my chances with the public.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.

You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.

I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go on to other things.

If you can dream it, you can do it.

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.

Mickey Mouse is, to me, a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end.

[Books]can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.

For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can…

I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it…

It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way…

That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best – make it all up – but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way…

There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges…

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master…

When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea…

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature…

And now my favorite: Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up…

—Ernst Hemingway

Now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.  Click on the photo.Ghost Waves 4

Since I am not able to quote my own book as yet, I’ve decided to quote from Moby Dick. “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing beforesea coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
The sea can be the mountains, the desert, a forest, the seashore, or just the backyard.  We often get so caught up in our own world of troubles, that we forget our mother (nature) is all around us, ready too comfort, console and uplift.
I’ve had the great fortune to travel the ends of the earth.  I’ve seen the alps from the air, and the glided below the crystal waters of the Caribbean.  I’ve hiked the Sierra’s and swum the South Pacific. But, sadly, most of my years have been spent behind a desk and so as Herman Melville says, “I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can!”

W. Everett Prusso

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