Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing for Fun and for Chicken Feed

The following is what I wrote for the final homework assignment in our Life Writing class. This week we were free to write about anything at all, and I wrote about writing. Like most of my self-indulgent posts, this piece is full of "I, I, I," but you're in there, too, Dear Readers. I don't think you have any idea how much you influence me.


I don't think I'll ever write a book. I might compile some of my short writings into a book one day, but that isn't the same thing at all. To me, the concept of writing a book implies that the author has a beginning, middle, and end in mind from the very first page. That describes the kind of book I like to read, but the self-discipline required to undertake writing enough about one subject to fill a book is almost beyond my comprehension.

Nope. I'm a short-piece kind of a person. I like to write about whatever is on my mind at the moment, any doggone thing that pops into my head. Come to think of it, that's the kind of conversation I enjoy, too. The only thing I really miss about working is the random nature of water-cooler chats in which each topic is a surprise and one subject leads to another, then another, and suddenly your mind is full of all sorts of little tidbits to mull over back at your desk. That's fun.

Writing a book sounds like work. Writing fiction might be fun if you have the kind of mind that conjures up plots, which, unfortunately, I don't. Writing about life could be fun, too, if your life has been an exciting one. Mine has been mostly uninteresting, except for a couple of exciting parts that I have the good sense not to put down for posterity. Writing a short piece is fun, like eating the heart of a watermelon and leaving behind the biggest part of the fruit so you don't have to pick out all those seeds. I think a book would have to have the seeds in it. Of course, seeds have their story, too.

I wonder if it's a characteristic of aging that I only want to do fun things these days. I  used to be a workaholic, but that was way back in the days when I had a job I really enjoyed. At least I enjoyed most of it; there were some things I didn't like. I used to tell people that the reason it's called work and we get paid to do it is that there are certain aspects of every job that aren't pleasant. If every single part of a job were fun, then someone would have to pay the employer for the privilege of doing it. Writing is like any other job, right? Some of it's work, some of it's fun.

I like to work with words, but I like to play with them more. It's fun to give them a rhythm that flows on the page and entices a reader to follow along. It's fun to practice the art of alliteration by stringing together some sibilant sounds. It's fun to write long, complex sentences, the kind of sentences that have numerous clauses and require the writer to use commas like orange-and-white-striped highway construction cones, warning the reader to pay attention and stay in her lane or she'll get lost. I like short sentences, too. And fragments of sentences. I like to get all up in the words and get messy, because sometimes the most interesting sentence begins with a conjunction, ends with a preposition, or contains a split infinitive. I'm happy that some of the rigid rules of grammar have been relaxed in modern writing, but I think a writer needs to know those rules in order to enjoy the experience of breaking them occasionally. Unintentional bad grammar, that which was obviously used neither as a tool for dialogue nor to express the writer's voice, yanks me right out of a good story. A creatively constructed sentence, on the other hand, piques my interest as a reader and as a writer.

I enjoy the process of writing immensely when there's something specific on my mind,  when my thoughts on the subject are clear, and when the right words flow forth to communicate those thoughts effectively. In fact, more than anything else, it's that deep need to communicate, to be understood, that drives me to write. When a single reader tells me, "I get what you're saying," or "I understand how you feel," I practically skip back to the keyboard to write something else that might elicit a similar response, the same kind of human connection.

Maybe it's the positive reinforcement of comments that has conditioned me to write short pieces. Do you remember the experiment in which a chicken was taught to ring a bell? If the chicken pulled the string that rang an attached bell, a few pieces of feed dropped into a dish. The chicken rang the bell again and again. What do you suppose would have happened if the chicken had had to ring the bell a hundred times to get a few tasty morsels? Even if the chicken were optimistic or masochistic enough to do all that work, it would probably feel disappointed about the results. "Man," the chicken might think, "look how hard I worked, and all they're paying me is chicken feed."

I think that's how writing works for me. I'm that chicken. Writing a short blog post is my version of ringing the bell, then I hover over the comment box and hope somebody drops a little reward in there. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I go hungry, but the point is that every time I ring the bell, there's at least an opportunity for a reward.

Now, let's say I somehow overpower my short attention span and write and write and write until one day there's enough material for a book. And let's say I self-publish that book, because I'm too instant-gratification oriented and too afraid of rejection to spend all my time and all my hopefulness on seeking out a publisher. Now let's pretend that the day has arrived: my e-book is available for purchase online. I have no great expectations, so the book is cheap, and a few people take a chance and buy it. Maybe one of them writes a review, and maybe (we're imagining, remember?) the review is a good one. There's my reward. Finally. And I feel really, really happy about it, but not really any happier than I feel when someone leaves a comment on a short blog post.

I like the comments, the feedback, the human connection. That's the rush. The reward. The fun of it. That's why I like writing short pieces. That's why I don't think I'll ever write a book.


  1. Well, I, for one, am disappointed to read you probably won't ever write a book. You've got "the art of alliteration by stringing together some sibilant sounds" down pat. It could of been a really good book!

  2. Thank you, Joy, for dropping your very fine comment into my otherwise empty dish. I'm now happily munching on poultry chow.

  3. I'm a sucker for feedback / comments myself. I get it! And even though I have written one long how to book, I don't think I have another book in me. It was a brutal, obsessive process and I physically cannot do it again!

  4. Holly, Kim felt the same way after she wrote her book about Pearl Jam. I'm extremely grateful to the writers whose minds and dispositions enable them to keep me in new books to read, and I bow down to them. I admire them tremendously, but I'll leave them to it.

  5. good looking Rhode Island red hen picture.

  6. Thanks, coh, that's one of my grandchickens.


Your comments might be the very best thing about blogging. I love it when you care enough to share your thoughts here, so go ahead and say what's on your mind.