How to Write, Part 1

Image courtesy of Sias van Schalkwyk via stock.xchng

It’s not fair. Some people just seem to have it easy.

They take an old family story, write it down, and collect the honor.

While the work they did was real, and this was definitely writing, their is a distinct advantage for one who records “at long last” a story that’s been told many times.


Or should that be two words?

Tongue Polished.

The designation refers to old, old stories that are elegant in their simplicity, they may even contain absurdities that are so entrenched that that they are simply accepted without any attempt at explanation.

The most widely discussed example is Folktales. My little corner of enjoyment in the esoteric.

Image courtesy of Ove Tøpfer via stock.xchng

Those are hundreds, if not thousands of years old, but in our own, more prosaic, lives, we still experience the tongue-polished story. These are the stories that make up the Family Lexicon.

A Lexicon is like a dictionary (a collection of words), but more specialized. Linguistically it’s a catalog of a given language’s words. The way I use it here is just to give a name to that collection every family grows as it creates its own culture with specialized language, stories and lessons learned.

The longer a story has been around, the longer it’s been told and re-told, the more streamlined it gets. Often it loses some of the random, irrelevant facts. Frequently the teller is no longer recalling the event itself, but rather the best words with which to describe it.

But that’s not the case, at first.

Something happens (Baby born before we get to the hospital!) and you talk about it because it’s extraordinary, an adventure. But what do you tell? what part did you play in the story? What words you use are not usually the main thing you’re focused on. In those first days, you’re only remembering.

It’s at this point you may begin to see there’s more to storytelling– and, therefore, writing– than most of us think about at first.

There are four levels of work involved in writing, and this, I believe, is part of what complicates the process of learning how to write. It’s this 4-step process, unidentified, that I think gets people in trouble.

  1. Image courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt via stock.xchng

    Idea generation. You have to come up with something to write ABOUT.

  2. Translation from idea into language.
  3. Translation from head-language to language-on-the-page (this essentially means holding onto the words you’ve come up with long enough to get them onto the page).
  4. The physical act of recording the words.

Four steps that can be tripped over, each in their own way.

Over the next couple days I’ll line this out in a bit more detail, offering suggestions for getting past the current stuck-spot and on to the next step.