Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center

By Dennis Hinkamp

How to Write Gooder

I’ve no doubt had reader’s block, but I’ve seldom had writer’s block. As a friend reminded me, “Mec­hanics and plumbers can’t say they are blocked; they just do it.” Of course, I could retort that mechanics and plumbers charge $80/hour and nobody complains. Increasingly writers are being replaced by bloggers who often are to writing what the tambourine is to a symphony.

That said, let me give you some sage advice even if you didn’t ask for it.

Writing is still a physical act. Runners don’t get better by drinking, napping, sailing or chanting. Runners do better at running by running. Similarly, you actually have to physically practice writing. You have to warm up your fingers and clear the neural pathways that connect your brain box to your fingertips. Next, you have to connect to the keyboard, which, in turn, connects to the computer. I’ve known a few writers who could dictate into a recorder or write out longhand on paper; I just don’t see how you could get any rhythm going. Part of the writing process, for me, is the keyboard noise feedback, just like breathing and footfalls are feedback for runners. The newer computers and pads seem to want to take this noise out of the equation so they can appear more elegant. It doesn’t work. Unplug that Bluetooth thing and get a cheap, clattering, wobbly keyboard.

Okay, this just might be an age thing. Yes, I did start (though only briefly) on a manual. I had a sadistic Journalism 101 instructor who insisted it built character. If you have ever seen my deformed pinky fingers you would understand how difficult it was to push down those outer keys.

Be creative and correct, but not at the same time. It is the rare person who can spew out perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation while writing creatively. Don’t even try to do this. There are at least two malevolent beings vying for control inside your cranium. One is an eager-to-please grammarian; the other is a petulant child who wants to use every crayon in the box. The two do not play well together so only bring one out at a time; preferably the petulant child first. Spell check, auto correct and Google have made it a lot easier for people like me to get by on limited technical skills. [Ed. note: And there’s still work left for me.]

Originality is mostly an illusion. You don’t have to be completely original; you just have to not plagiarize. As long as you aren’t cutting and pasting from someone else’s work there is nothing wrong with riffing on public domain ideas. Watch three to five comedy shows on any given night and you will hear many similar jokes. There are only so many riffs off Trump’s hair and small hands available to the human imagination. I used to go libraries and bookstores and be overwhelmed by the number of books and just figure there could not possibly be a way to put together words in different way. If this were true, writers would have given up writing about the time the Gutenberg press was invented. Now we have Kindle, and the original sentence is still possible.

Dennis Hinkamp believes words on a page are still the foundation of communication.

This article was originally published on June 3, 2016.