Tag Archives: practice

Why You Should Write When There’s No Time

If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.” ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

When I became busy with college, I didn’t like this quote. First of all, as a homeschooled high schooler I’d had plenty of time to write, and write I did. Poems, novels, far-fetched tales of adventure in Africa, and letters—so many letters. Take that, Katerina. I wrote even when I had time.

Then college started. I valued grades over words on the page. All of a sudden, college ended and a career began. I start to see that I’ll never have time to write, at least not in the foreseeable future. What’s a writer to do?

Write when there’s no time. Up to 15 minutes of creative free-writing a day, just to get words on the page and a blog post out. I’ve finally learned that practice makes better, no matter how much raw talent you do or don’t have. Through practice, you can better understand your craft and yourself. No practice, and you’re a seed without soil.

I’ve noticed something interesting about writing when there’s no time. Katerina’s right. After a busy weekday, it’s easier for me to write than on a free weekend. The pressure is a motivator. And, against all indications to the contrary, writers aren’t hermits. A big part of the job is spending time out in the world with other people, interacting with them, exchanging ideas, getting to know the readers.

Even when there’s no time, if you want to write, write. For five minutes. Maybe just ten words. If you love it like I do, this will be enough. It’ll remind you what writing’s like. And if you ever get the time to write more, you’ll be ready.

Not Made for a Classroom

“We’ll create this project for an imaginary client.”797266

“Here are the instructions, now get started on your film.”

“Imagine the client wants this type of design. Think about the audience, and start researching.”

As a senior Communication major, I’m starting to notice a pattern in my class projects: that is, a glaring absence of an actual client and real world experience. There are reasons for this absence, and perhaps the most significant is America’s widespread mindset that education is synonymous with a classroom setting. This is strange—and inaccurate—and tends to result in practice-based subjects getting the short end of the stick.

My major is attempting to straddle the line between practical professional development (which you learn only by doing) and academic rigor (which isn’t related to practical skill—for example, think of these master writers and filmmakers who didn’t learn their craft in college). In my opinion, a four year COM major should be made up of at least two years of legitimate real-world on-the-job high-stakes achievement—maybe like trade school—as well as the option of a media theory course. In order to add academic rigor, COM majors should pick a separate subject to specialize in (bio, psych, physics, sociology, history, tech, etc.) so that they’ll have a pool of knowledge to draw from when creating media.

We’re trying to train communicators, right? Is being able to explore within a sheltered environment for four years really a beneficial experience, disconnected from real clients and all the associated challenges of working with them? When do you learn how to deal with humanity—the demanding client, the client of prolonged silences, the client who can’t make up their mind? Many communicators are freelancers. These are legitimate concerns.

On the other hand, some subjects do seem to fit right into the classroom environment. In my personal case, I’m only motivated to learn mathematics while in a classroom setting. However, when I think about this I start to wonder . . . I know a few students who take joy in learning math on their own, and they hardly get anything valuable from these classes. Is it possible that classrooms are made specifically for those who are not already accomplished in the subject area?

A classroom is an academic arena. It’s a place for ideas and arguments to grow as they encounter one another, a place separate and distinct from the outside world. Sometimes it’s a padded starting ground for those who are beginning to learn their craft-based professions, but no matter your initial writing ability or your filmmaking ability (graphic design is a bit of another story in my opinion), the classroom will not be an ideal skill-honing environment. In fact, I don’t think people with professional communication aspirations go to college to learn their trade (at least I hope not…), but rather to get a broader base of knowledge, new experiences, a respected credential, and practice navigating the world as an adult.

Play with Your Tools

5 years ago I bought my little Fujifilm camera for under $100. Its lens is small and its capabilities limited, but it is waterproof and portable. When I got that camera I was so excited that I ran out to play with it immediately. I took pictures of early March ladybugs, of driveway gravel, of old rose hips from past seasons—anything that caught my eye.

Through experimentation, I learned how to trick the autofocus and autoexposure into doing exactly what I wanted by first focusing on my hand before taking a photo. I learned what range the little camera performed best at—when the subject is 3”-5” away. Through 5 years of exuberant play with my cheap equipment, and tens of thousands of photos, I became one with my tool.

A camera is an instrument that captures visual music. Learning to use a camera is the same as learning to play guitar or piano—you haven’t really got it until your body can do it without you.

After five fun years, I bought a new camera. It’s a canon, with a great black eye to suck in the light of the world. It’s capable of so much more, but not yet—not in my inexperienced hands. So I’m starting the process all over again, to play with the tool until I know it so well that my fingers find the buttons on their own, and I’ll intuitively know what images the camera can capture beautifully and what isn’t worth trying for. The learning will begin when I put down the manual and venture out into the world with my trusty camera sidekick.

If there’s something you love to do and you allow yourself to play with it, you will become a master. The time will pass unnoticed. And the process of discovery will go on forever. For me and my camera, there are as many experiments as there are images in the world, and then some.

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Fiber Optics

On Writing Concisely

Celeste Ng’s novel Everything I Never Told You begins with two simple sentences:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

If you read the book through, you’ll know that these first three words sum up the entire novel. The second sentence sums up the theme. This is exemplary writing, and it continues throughout the story.

Writing concisely is a gift and a skill. As with most writing skills, writers can become more adept using these three steps:

  1. Observe good writing (read).
  2. Practice your own writing.
  3. Get feedback.

I’ve suggested a book for observation, and getting feedback seems fairly straightforward. What about that practice?

Here’s a good way to practice writing concisely. Take 15 minutes or so, and write as much as you can. Writing cohesive thoughts is optional; just go for word count. Make a point not to reword any sentences, even if they’re hurting your brain.

Once the 15 minutes is over, take that text of yours and see how many words you can cut out while still retaining the original meaning. Make it a game. If, by the end of this exercise, it seems you can’t delete one more word without compromising the meaning of your writing, give yourself a high score!

This exercise is ideal because you have little time to become emotionally attached to your words. When you’ve spent substantial time carving your sentences, it’s harder to follow Strunk and White’s advice to omit needless words. Yet, even though it’s painful, playing this game with treasured writing can be very beneficial. Just make sure you have back-up copies.