The Unintentional Writer

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I have received some correspondence recently to the effect that TKZ has some regular visitors who are not necessarily interested in becoming authors themselves.  They stop by because they are interested in how authors engage in the process by which writing is done. They have no inclination towards writing, let alone publishing a story. Think of folks who like to eat but who have no inclination toward cooking. This is aimed at those who enjoy literary feasts but have no inclination toward stirring the pot, though the Emerils in the audience may find it interesting as well. 

Our own Jim Bell contributed a deep but highly accessible piece the Sunday last titled “Advice for the Demoralized Writer.” It contains terrific advice which is applicable to all regardless of occupation but the crux of it is to do your very, very best while sublimating your expectations of awards or recognition. If your efforts garner such you will be pleasantly surprised. If not, you won’t be disappointed. I am going to take that advice a step further while aiming it in a different direction.

My suggestion is to write every day. That is not new or original advice. I am offering it particularly, however, to those of you who have no intention of or inclination toward starting or completing a story or having it revealed in the harsh light of day. Writing something every day because you want to, instead of when you have to, is good for you. I truly believe that writing regardless of length or motive makes one smarter — whatever that is — and yes, happier. Writing even one sentence of a few words per day enables you, the unintentional writer, to say, “I wrote this.” It may not give you an adrenaline rush but I submit to you that it will produce, at the least, a drop of it in your cup. It’s the difference between doing an action because you are required to (for reasons from within or without) and doing it because you want to. It can crack the ice that freezes your thinking, whether you write on a post-it, a computer, or your hand. It is an activity that you can do without prompting, or the desire of future reward, other than that occasioned by performing the act itself. I have mentioned this before, but the television series Miami Vice was born as the result of two words handwritten on a piece of paper. The words were “MTV cops.” Your results may differ. That’s the point. There are those who may keep a diary or journal for a similar reason. What I propose is not as involved. 

This post is but one example of “wanting to” as opposed to “being compelled to.” I started this post with one sentence, though it is not the introductory sentence that you see above. I wrote a few words to get rolling and then took off, as John Coltrane said, in both directions at once. It was because I wanted to. “The Kill Zone” name notwithstanding, no one here writes with a gun to their head. We are all here because we want to be, whether to write or to read what is written. 

Now we present below an example of some writing that a six-year-old miscreant was compelled to do as a classroom punishment in the closing days of first grade. History has not recorded what the lad did over sixty years ago to earn this assignment. If rehabilitation was the purpose please rest assured that the effort failed miserably.  It is a wonder that he ever took pen(cil) to paper again voluntarily, but he did occasionally and still does.

Photo by Al Thumbs Photography. All rights reserved.

Try what I suggest and see what happens. At worst you will have wasted a few seconds. At best, it could be the start of something big. As with most things, the end result may be somewhere in the middle. Don’t worry about that. This is a worry-free activity for enjoyment as opposed to production. Just put a few words down for the fun of it. You might be surprised.  

Actually, let’s try it right now. Seven words or less. Go! Here’s mine:

“He wondered where the painter was.” 

Have a relaxing Memorial Day. While you do so, please remember the reason for the season. Thank you. 

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52 thoughts on “The Unintentional Writer

  1. Ah, love this, Joe! As someone who writes for bread and butter, it never occurs to me to write something just for the halibut. But you bring up a great point—writing is good for us. Good for our brains, good for our perspective. Keeping a journal is one time-honored way to do that. But I’d also advise the “unintentional” writer to try anything and everything. Write bad poetry and commercial jingles; flash fiction and scenes you’d like to see. Heck, write your grocery list as if it’s a letter from a tomato. Just. Have. Fun.

    My glass eye plopped into the stew.

    • First! Thank you so much, Jim, for your kind comments, excellent advice (as always), and for your contribution. In just a few words you’ve created an image that I will never be able to unsee. That, my friends, is real talent.

      Have a great weekend, Jim.

  2. Joe, this is fantastic. Your post gave me joy, just reading and thinking about it. And your advice is golden. “I truly believe that writing regardless of length or motive makes one smarter — whatever that is — and yes, happier.” I can vouch for the “happier.” I won’t make any claims for the “smarter,” although, as I look back, writing has helped me learn to analyze (critical voice) and has probably greased the skids for my creativity (creative voice). And man, it has given me a dopamine rush of pleasure. Do it! FOR THE LOVE OF IT. And if I may add, save that writing, so you can look back. Diary, journal, scrap paper, or on a roll of toilet paper. Leave a legacy.

    We conquered the mountain.

    God loves you, Joey Hartlaub. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thank you, Steve. If I have given you joy today then my work is done! Your kind comments and contributions have brought me joy as well. That is more than I can say for my ATT Uverse broadband this fine morning, but that’s another story.

      Have a terrific weekend, Steve.

  3. Joe, perfect post with perfect timing for me. I’ve been casting about for a new plot idea. This a.m. an article on DNA collection by the FBI started me down a rabbit hole. Then I read your post and a sentence came to me:

    I think you’re my brother.

    Thanks for making the pieces click together.

    • Debbie, you are welcome. And thanks so much for sharing. After a few days of practicing my own suggestion, I woke up this morning with the following sentence:

      “Corpses were stacked on the patio.”

    • “Joey” was appropriate Steve, since I tended to hop around. And still do!

  4. Perfect timing, Mr. H.~ I have been feeling “becalmed” of late as my “production” (read completions) seems stalled, but this fine morning it dawned on me that I’ve still been scribbling daily – pen-in-hand-to-paper, in dog eared tattered notebooks – what I’ve called “jottings” – prompts and stuttering starts – from fewer than seven words to sometimes more than seven lines – for so long I have stacks of these squirreled away in boxes in closet and attic – so perhaps I’m not as ‘“unintentional” as I feared… nor am I the “lurker” here I started to feel you might’ve been addressing…

    And the latest “scribbled jotting”:
    Joy changes everything…

    As always, thanks for your inspiring and encouraging word… and for those, and families of those, who gave and continue to give all for all…

    • George, thanks for reporting your progress. That is why we do what we do here. Sometimes all that it takes to jumpstart things.

      Re: your last clause…Amen.

  5. Joey Hartlaub had beautiful handwriting, especially for a six-year-old boy being punished, who might have slopped through it to get it done quickly. I imagine that was the beginning of a lifetime of doing things right.

    The white sun gave off no warmth.

    • Thank you, Becky. “(had)” is the operative word here, unfortunately. It was difficult for a left-hander. I regret to say that I have reached the age and station where I am sometimes unable to read my own writing.

      Also…thanks for sharing. That sun might not give off warmth but we can look forward to its light.

  6. Am I the only one who, when I read the part about challenging everyone, even non-writers, to write a little something every day, whose fingers were tapping together expectantly, waiting to hear how doing so got them hooked on writing? I bet it’ll happen. To at least one person. Moi ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!! If so, I hope they will let us know.

  7. Hey, Joe, loved this!

    Not just seven words, but the first line I ever wrote, never intending or even dreaming that it’d be in a book was, She couldn’t believe this would be the last thing her eyes would see on this earth.

    To the seven word exercise: The old man turned around too late.

    • Thank you, Deb, for your comments and for sharing that interesting first line and for the product of your exercise.

      I can speak from experience that old men, more often than not, turn around waaay too late…

  8. Wonderful post, Joe! Well I remember writing between the lines like young Joey, though I can’t recall what young Dale was instructed to write.

    “Writers write,” as Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito’s writer characters proclaimed in Throw Momma From the Train, as so they do. In that spirit, my seven words:

    “The disco panicked when the clown arrived.”

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks, Dale, you have a great weekend as well. And thanks for sharing your seven words! What an image!

    • Thank you, Patricia. What a great sentence! As they say in New Orleans, in response to an inquiry into one’s health, “Could be better. Could be worse. Could be ridin’ in the hearse as the guest of honor!”

    • Thank you, Priscilla. The quality of the penmanship was due to all of the practice!

      Have a safe and restful Memorial Day as well, Priscilla.

    • Thank you, Harold.

      Re: your photography…my younger daughter, when she was three, would take pictures of her food for hours every night. After every bite, from different angles. She’s since won awards, had her work on the cover of and in local magazines, etc. It works.

    • Ouch, Harold. The story behind that short story eclipses the story itself. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Delightful, Joe. Here’s one from Alfred Hitchcock, which he supposedly liked to say in crowded elevators:
    “I never thought there would be so much blood.”

    • Thank you, Elaine. I love it. I had never heard that story before. I bet that would clear things out quickly.

  10. Sometimes all I have time for are quick jottings. I throw them in a box and occasionally they come in handy.
    7 word exercise;
    I planted the flag on Daddy’s grave.

    • Thanks for sharing, Cynthia. That’s an especially poignant offering this weekend. And the box idea is fantastic. If you get stuck, just dip into it and grab an idea. Terrific!

  11. I’ve been hanging out at Quora recently. All those questions to answer. Know-it-all JEOPARDY! Heaven. Anyway, in the writing section, someone wanted to write fiction, and people told her to sit down and write. Her question was “Write what?”

    I told her to start small. A scene she wasn’t happy with in a TV show or a movie. Write it how she’d like to see it. Typical early fan fiction. Or, if some news story catches her interest, and a what-if question springs to mind. Write that. In other words, find simple writing prompts to start the process and see how much she enjoys it and wants to continue.

    Those of us who have been writing forever and have ideas for novels a dime a dozen forget what it was like in the early stages of “write what.”

    • Start small, works Marilynn. It’s great advice. Thanks.

      Also, thanks for the reminder about Quora.

    • Great stuff, Suzanne. Thanks! I hope everyone is having as much fun with this as I am.

  12. Thanks for this great advice, Joe. I’m an author who lurks here every day. I especially appreciated JSB’s “Advice for the Demoralized Writer” the weekend before last, and I appreciate your admonition to just write whatever I please right now. I’m between contracts and it feels scary. However, having the chance to just play around with ideas and see where they lead is perhaps a good thing when one’s creativity is down below “empty” on the gas gauge.
    I’m Canadian but as a military spouse, I wish you all a happy Memorial Day weekend!

    • Thanks for being here every day, Laurie, and please feel free to comment whenever time and inclination intersect. I hope you continue to find our daily offerings helpful.

      Canadian soldiers have on many, many occasions stood shoulder to shoulder with U.S. troops. As far as I’m concerned we remember all this Monday. Happy Memorial Day weekend to you as well.

  13. God protects the stupid.
    My job was to sit on the extended, open ramp of the C-130 and throw the four foot long medical cylinder packed with rabies vaccine out into the sea for the Navy launch to catch it as it floated down on its chute. The cylinder hit the slipstream from the aircraft as I leaned over to watch its flight. A sailor waited until at sea to report a bat bite while hiking on leave in Panama!
    As the ramp closed, I crawled up, finding that my safety harness had not been attached.

  14. My word. Thanks for sharing that story, Doctor. I’m glad we didn’t lose you. Thank you for your service, this weekend particularly.

  15. Thank you, Kay, and Happy Memorial Day to you!

    My response to your contribution is “It depends where it is located!” 🙂

  16. Sorry I’m late, Joe! I blocked out the world yesterday to read and write. What an amazing day it turned out to be, too. Love the advice to write for the fun of it! At times, when I’m in research-mode and haven’t written in a few days, I ache to get back to it. Writing, for pleasure or production, is good for the soul.

    Hope you’re enjoying your weekend!

  17. SueSueSue…you aren’t late because 1) we never close and 2) the party doesn’t start until you get here! And you are living proof of writing being good for the soul, since you are a wonderful one.

    Other than for a person or two taking turns to jump on my last nerve, the weekend is great, thanks, and I hope that yours is as well. Thanks for stopping by, Sue.

    • Thanks, J.G. That one could be taken a couple of different ways…I love it…

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