One Thousand Words on the Unexpected Benefits of Writing

I’ve discovered that beyond giving voice to my overactive imagination, there are other benefits to writing 1000 words practically every night.

My first indication that all this writing was paying off was the workshop I took where we wrote from a prompt. I posted about it on October 14, but what I didn’t write is that I was the only writer to write a complete fictional short story in twenty minutes.

One gentleman wrote a complete nonfiction piece. (Don’t tell anyone, but I think he had it already written in his head and just figure out a way to use the prompt. It sounded too polished. But maybe I’m just trying to make myself sound more impressive than I really am.)

The other writers wrote scenes, or fragments of scenes. They were all very good and written better than mine, but I was pretty proud that I was able to spit out a complete work in the limited time frame. Small victories, I guess.

I credit this writing project for being able to do that. I’ve become (dare I use the word?) skilled at pacing myself. And at wrapping things up quickly if I’m approaching a deadline, either word count or time.

When the workshop leader said we had five minutes left to write, I unconsciously shifted into “tie this up into a neat package” mode, something I do every night as I approach the 1000 word limit.

Now, I recognize that this might not be a helpful skill in writing a novel. Maybe I’m cutting myself off before something really great happens. Or maybe if I kept writing, I’d find that I need to ramble for a few hundred words before anything of use appears on the page. I don’t allow myself that luxury with my self-imposed word count.

But even if I’m missing out on potential greatness, I think it’s a handy talent to have. And at least my writing doesn’t go on and on and on. What’s the quote from Hamlet? “Brevity is the soul of wit,” right?

I just reread my very first post back in May. After getting past all the blogging etiquette rules I broke (not linking to the people I mentioned, using really long paragraphs… I really should go back and fix all those things) and formatting errors I made, I found the quote from The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts by Lilian Jackson Braun that gave me the 1000 word idea.

In it the character says that after a teacher regularly assigned his class 1000 words essays he could “write a thousand words on any subject at a moment’s notice.”

In the post, I write about how great it would be to have that skill but to tell the truth I didn’t think I would ever actually possess it. I didn’t think I’d stick to the project long enough. But I have and I’m getting to the point where I can write 1000 words about anything.

Today, for instance, I stayed home to write a grant.

Grant narratives should be easy for me. I’ve worked for the organization for over ten years. I know all the ins and outs. But even though I know the topic backwards and forwards, I’ve always struggled when writing grants. They’re long and have all these requirements. And every single one is different. It feels like you’re just jumping through hoops.

Today, however, I sailed through it! I simply sat down and did it. Easy peasy. It has to be because of all the writing I’m doing. Nothing else is has changed.

I don’t know if I could do the same thing on a topic I don’t know. If I had to write two pages on long distance trucking or shot putting it would probably be a bigger challenge.

But even if it took longer with an unfamiliar subject, I’ve become more confident in my writing abilities. Instead of saying, “I can’t write about long distance trucking” or “I don’t know anything about shot putting,” I’d say, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.”

The thing I’m most excited about is that this project has helped me develop my voice.

The former director of my organization was a very formal and flowery writer. His letters were poetry and, frankly, I often needed a dictionary to read them. The sentences were long, full of metaphors and lots of adjectives.

I used to proofread for him once in a while and I’d always fill the page with question marks because I couldn’t follow what he was saying. The sentences were so long that I’d lost track of the beginning by the time I made it to the end.

He always ignored these suggestions. He never said it straight out, but I always felt that he thought I was kind of pedestrian, too simple to understand his inspired prose.

After he left and I took over, I tried to emulate his style at first. I thought it was expected of me, that a director of an arts organization had to sound like they were sitting on a thesaurus all day.

But as I’ve been writing every night, my own style has emerged. And I like it. It’s casual, approachable and friendly. And you don’t need a reference book to understand it.

And I’m comfortable defending my style, because I own it. I developed it and it’s mine.

I’m thrilled with all these self-discoveries and with how my skill set has grown over the past six month. They are unexpected benefits to an adventure I began on a whim. I guess the old saying is true. Practice does make perfect. Not that I’m saying I’m perfect… just better.

==

I stopped a little short of 1000 words, because I wanted to write a quick follow up on last night’s post. I wrote that I hate car commercials that suggest you should buy someone a car for Christmas.

Tonight I saw this ad: “Are You a Millionaire?”

Bravo, Honda! If I didn’t already own a Fit, I’d go by one.

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