Cowan Palace: The Write Stuff

Ashley Cowan shares thoughts from her journal as well as offering a few suggestions to make you a better writer.

When I was kid, writing creative stories was sort of a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t something I told my friends (because I would have been teased… more than I was already) but in my free time, I’d go to town writing pages about anything from the inner lives of those on the Oregon Trail (the game) to the secret workings of kids who were way more popular and had somehow missed adolescent’s awkward hazing process of braces, glasses, and growing out your bangs. Which, by the way, if those were the three parts in a nerdy triathlon, I would have been a serious competitor.

As I grew up, I continued to treasure my English assignments over most subjects but managed to keep the interest to myself. I actually developed a fear of sharing my work with others because it made me feel incredibly vulnerable and exposed. So mostly, I kept my words hidden in various notebooks and journals.

The first time I shared my work with an audience was thanks to Theater Pub. It was their second show ever and it featured a more bitter examination of Valentine’s Day (conveniently playing a day after the romantic holiday itself). I read from my legit, very personal diary, things I had never planned to share with anyone (leave it to you to get it out of me, Theater Pub). But ever since that experience, I’ve been able to continue facing that fear and move on to the other hurdles of declaring yourself a writer.

Very recently, I decided to try and submit something for Theater Pub’s highly anticipated Pint Sized Festival. Not only did I wait until the last minute to choose what to write but I also misread the three character maximum rule and wrote something with four characters in mind.  Leaving me to hurry home from Monday’s fun performance and scramble to put something resembling my idea together into a play before midnight.

But it’s my own fault. I have mastered the art of distracting myself each time I try to get some work done. Whenever I should be writing, I suddenly become quite interested in doing things like cleaning out my closet or reading the latest gossip on past Bachelor contestants (will Sean and Catherine make it?!). And if you’re anything like me, maybe you’ve thought of some similar excuses. So I thought it may be fun to look into some of the habits of some more well-known writers; perhaps we can all gain some wisdom and advice in the form a gentle list of suggestions to get back in the world of written words.

So here we go. Without further ado, here are five suggestions to become a better writer.

Write Something Everyday

That’s right, lazy bones. If you want to be a writer you actually have to write. You wouldn’t run a marathon without prepping a bit, right? Maybe doing some stretching or whatever? It’s similar. Just take it from the pros; Stephen King vows to write ten pages every day. No matter what. Ernest Hemingway aimed for at least five hundred words. You don’t have to write about nightmare clowns or develop a famous alcohol issue (though, I’m not stopping you) but consider it a good push.

Change Your Position

Literally. Now, maybe you’re most comfortable at a desk but who’s not a fan of lying in bed?! And for some writers, like Truman Capote, they claim to be a “completely horizontal author”. George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and I’m sure many others, also shared a love of the good ole writing in bed routine. While you’re there for your next catnap, why not try documenting a thought or two?

Turn Off The Internet

Yeah, okay, I know you can’t actually turn off the Internet worldwide but you can do yourself a favor and disable it from time to time. From the mind-suck of Facebook to the endless array of new articles (but seriously guys, do you think Sean and Catherine have what it takes?!) it’s easy to become distracted. When Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants she said she would dedicate a few hours a day to work in a small, cramped private space devoid of distraction. If the online pull isn’t an issue for you, perhaps investigate other new ways to help your concentration. It could be turning off the TV or locking yourself in a padded room, whatever. Make focusing a priority.

Cherish The Small Stuff

Get those short stories done! Write that ten minute play! Before you can tackle the next great masterpiece; try to complete those projects that seem to be constantly left on the backburner because of their petite size. Mark Twain did it! He was a travel writer and journalist before he went on to write any material that would later be dissected by high school students everywhere. Besides, completing shorts gives you the wonderful opportunity to really know your story and make it solid.

Write Because You Love It More Than Your Journal

Don’t get me wrong – I love journaling. It’s how I survived my teenage years. And it’s a great way to keep stretching those writer muscles because it keeps the habit thriving. But consider writing for other people. Keep it personal (I’d love to read your gossip) just keep potential readers in mind. Push yourself to get those thoughts out from hidden inside your Lisa Frank binder to a larger interested audience.

Neil Gaiman once said, “Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” It’s not the easiest thing to love but know you’re in a welcoming community of fellow minded folks and if you fall, there are a bunch of us already down who can soften the landing… as we pick each other up again in search of flight.

What’s your typical writing routine? Any practices you’d like to share? Have you heard any interesting Sean and Catherine news? Please, leave us a comment!

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3 comments on “Cowan Palace: The Write Stuff

  1. Ashley, I don’t know if you saw this, but one of the plays being developed at the O’Neill Theater Conference this summer is about “a middle schooler who becomes lost in the old-school Oregon Trail computer game.” OREGON TRAIL by Bekah Brunstetter. http://variety.com/2013/legit/news/oneill-conference-to-develop-new-plays-by-auburn-hunter-exclusive-1200370953/

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