header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); What Can Writing Teach Us? – Kristen Koster
Sep 232011

Close up of the pieces of hand-set type used in the Gutenberg's Puzzle artwork in the Newseum in Washington, D.C.This week my accountability group is blogging about what has writing taught us and what we have learned over the years. Last week’s post on what inspired our current WIPs is also part of our How I Write series.

I chose today’s photo with a nefarious purpose in mind. See, I don’t really want to talk about what I’ve personally learned through my writing. I’d much rather hear about your discoveries! However, just in choosing that picture, I’ve told you something about myself and how much books and the printed word mean to me.

At Washington College, or more accurately while my husband was still there after I’d graduated, I served an apprenticeship as a “printer’s devil” in The Literary House Print Shop and became good friends with the Master Printer T. Michael Kaylor. My wedding invitations were printed in that shop on an antique letterpress (the one in the 2nd photo if you follow that last link) using type I’d handset myself. It wasn’t quiet — I still can’t listen to Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints album, Sweet Honey In The Rock, or Van Morrison without being swept back into that room that smells of paper, ink, pipe smoke and wisdom — and with the rhythm of feeding the press, it was easy to drift off and get lost in your own thoughts. I learned a lot about myself in that room.

The funny thing was, I wasn’t an English major or even a Drama major like everyone else who hung out at the Lit House. No, I double majored in Business Administration and Economics. Need your checkbook balanced? Don’t ask me. But I’ve always hung out with the “literary” types. Pretentious? Not me, but several of them would have been labeled that way with little hesitation by their peers. Did I start hanging out with the creative types in college? Nope. I was on the tech crew for a couple of shows for the drama club in high school, but mostly I was a band geek. The stories I could tell you… This one time… at band camp? Yeah… So not going there. My mom reads this blog.

So, I can hear you asking, “What? You didn’t always want to be a writer or novelist since you picked up your dad’s flair pens and drew all over yourself? What? Not even an artist?”

Nope. That so wasn’t me for the longest time. Don’t get me wrong, I come from a long artistic line. One great grandfather was an art collector, one grandmother went to art school, one grandfather was a professional photographer. My mom was an English major. My husband has an MFA in Poetry. I was surrounded by artists. I’ve always considered myself to be logic and order to my husband’s chaos and creativity. He’ll come up with the cool ideas and the details are left to me to make them work. Oh, right, you guys saw my desk. Yes, I bring my own brand of chaos with me, granted. So what did I want to be when I grew up? An accountant.

Stop laughing right now! I hated the busy work that was my required Accounting class for my business major. It was about that time that I was falling in love with the puzzles that the supply and demand graphs were challenging me with in my Economics classes. Exploring those puzzles and the theories behind the markets was what intrigued me. Not crunching numbers. Ew. Hated that. Boring. And then in grad school, you had to be a math major to do the equations for the econ classes. Ugh. Count me out. I can only assume the need for logical explanations and to solve puzzles comes from my dad, the computer programmer.

Ever since 7th grade, I’ve been a voracious reader. My mom once despaired of ever getting me to read a book, but once I found genre fiction — science fiction and fantasy to begin with and then I found her stacks and stacks of romance novels… well that was all she wrote. I took the campaign “Get caught reading” to heart. I don’t think my kids have hardly seen me without a book nearby. My Girl Scout campname from my daughter’s troop was “Bookworm”. The movers hate the 139 book boxes we have when we move, and I can’t blame them all on my husband. Books are a big part of my life. At some point in college, I also decided I could do better than what I was reading that summer. Yup. That manuscipt is buried so deep on my harddrive, it’ll never see the light of day. But I learned I had something, people wanted me to keep going. I took a side trip into game design and MUDs for a decade or so, but eighteen years after I’d shelved that first failed attempt, I opened another Word file and started typing again. I needed a creative outlet.

So, what writing has taught me is that creativity is in my genes and some of it, like working with images and print layout, I can do a decent job with riding on instincts alone, but actually sitting down and writing my own novel is hard work. Satisfying, exciting and always changing each day, but difficult. I’ve learned to let go and trust myself more with each project. I’ve been told I over-think things, but I think that’s just my logical and orderly genes sticking their nose in. Maybe I should lock them up in that iron-bound box with my internal editor, they’re probably related. I’ve also realized that I was hanging out in the right places with the right kinds of people the whole time, even if I didn’t know it. And, yes, writing and being around those creative people has taught me more about what I don’t want to be when I grow up than anything else. But I also know, the more you practice at your art (no matter which one you’re working in), the better you’ll become in the long run.

Your Turn: What have your creative endeavors (successful or not so) taught you?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group has learned from writing, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

  8 Responses to “What Can Writing Teach Us?”

Comments (8)
  1. My various creative endeavors have taught me that the project will not be perfect the first time and if the project is a failure, it’s still a learning experience.

    • I think I’m much more critical of my writing projects than any of my other creative pursuits. I wonder why that is? I mean, I KNOW where the flaws are in them, but I’m ok with it. Just ask my daughter about the dress with the sleeves on backwards. Four years and I still haven’t fixed that for the poor kid.

  2. Great post! I started writing because my friend was and I thought ‘I can do that too!’. lol From that point on I was gone. It’s funny you say you started off not reading romance. I started with thrillers and horror. My first romance book that I read was a book my mom picked up because it had a serial killer in it and she didn’t know it had ‘intimacy’ in it. She and my dad had already taken away my Dean Koontz books because there were a few ‘suggested’ closed door scenes. I stole them back anyway, hiding them under my bed as I read them but still! After that first one, I knew romance books was what I wanted to read. I never looked back. Although, for over 5 years, I never ‘admitted’ I read romance. I told family that it was a thriller. I’d choose books with covers that didn’t have the woman half naked in a man’s arms. Books where I could say, ‘oh it has a serial killer in it… or… they are going on an archaeology dig, etc’. I could clearly remember hiding the fact that I was reading romances from everyone. It makes me laugh now.

    • That’s funny that they’d object to sex over violence. Course I’ve read some pretty racy serial killer thrillers too. Romance never had bad connotations attached in my house. I remember stealing my mom’s copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover and wondering what all the fuss was about. Of course, my mom said the same thing when I confessed to that one years later. I think the idea of “other worlds” and people with different abilities is what first caught my imagination. It was a sci-fi type short story in 5th grade that started it. Finding Anne McCaffrey in 7th grade just solidified it after running through all the ghost, alien and that kind of books in the library. It was probably 8th or 9th grade when I started picking up her historical romances and devouring them as well.

  3. Dancing brought me to writing, and vice versa. Creating has always been in my genes. I write the way I choreograph… with my own personal flow. When it works, it’s a glorious thing. When the flow is interrupted… well, ugh! But dancing (we’re not talking ballroom stuff here, but contemporary dance and ballet) taught me to feel the flow, channel it, manipulate it, maintain discipline, and search for the results that best speak to the development of my own voice.

    Nice post!
    Happy Saturday.
    htp://www.lindathomas-sundstrom .com

    • Thanks for stopping by, Linda! We speak a lot of music at my house. I was two classes short of a music minor in college as well. 1st two semesters of Music Appreciation if you can believe it. They always clashed with my business classes. So I can totally relate to how you compare it to the flow and rhythm of dance. And you’re right, seeing two people dance the same choreography one after the other is a completely different experience each time. The concept of Voice is interesting how it usually means “personal expression” and so much more at the same time. Hope the weekend is good to you as well!

  4. I’ve learned not to give up and that even a little bit of writing every day eventually adds up.

    • Those are great lessons, Georgie! I always feel bad on days when I only manage a very low word count, but then I say, any progress is more than I had yesterday! Thanks for stopping by!

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