Derek Johnson Muses

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Fuel Tank

DSCN1462 Imagine that.

Writing Road Notes

Open Road West of Flint

Out There…

Last year, my main method of writing while I traveled was to type notes on my iPod touch during lunches and driving breaks, but this year I haven’t done that as much, for two reason. One, as I have gone back through old posts, I have found that this writing style leaves me with an incoherent narrative, a problem similar to the problem of tweeting-thoughts are broken into too many pieces. If I sit down the day I get back from a trip, I can write a more focused, direct first draft while it’s still fresh.

Two, I just feel more hurried when I’m away from home. I have a house now and wanting to spend time there, given what I’m paying for it and how much I have to do to maintain it. Either way, whenever I’m on the road, I think more and more about how long it will be until I’m back, although Tom staying at my place now relieves my nerves.

The road can be such a lonely place at times. Maybe it’s no more lonely than the rest of my life, but I still feel so isolated when I’m out there, passing miles of other truckers and minivans packed with kids on summer vacations. The gas stations, the hotels, and the restaurants are all same, which is a very comforting thing. But as the wear of the temporal adds up, I have to accept the confidence to let certain details melt away and remain on the asphalt, trusting that if that colorful mural on the side of an aging brick building in central Wisconsin is really significant, I’ll remember it when I get home and write it down.  All part of using the judgment of a good writer.

Whenever I would stop at a rest stop in central Michigan to write about how the shops in Small Town X were, I was doing so out of an insecurity of a novice who was sure he’d forget. Not that I’ve mastered the craft, but I’m more confident in letting the narrative form in my mind. Now I’m ready to face the silence of the road between my destination and home.

Reflected...

Reflected…

Introspection: Write Well, Not Just Often

When I started writing this blog, I was overflowing with thoughts. For the first few months, I gutted posts out without forethought, and somehow, managed to put up a post or two a day during the mild winter of 2012 (don’t ask me how). Gradually, I saw how it was self-defeating to push my work into the archives so quickly and pulled back, going closer to a post every two to four days. Since May of 2012, I’ve averaged about 10 to 11 a month, which seems about right.

But through all this, I’ve wondered what my long term goals should be. Yes, I love to write and I’m sharing about topics that I care about, but it’s weighed on me as to how many productive hours to sink into this venture. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that you can stay at the beginner to average level for a long time if you don’t do anything to improve.

That’s why I don’t write about sports or TV as much as I used, only when it comes out easily, and I don’t take the time to polish it as I would a piece about travel that I might republish. But still, the more I write, the more I ask myself: am I getting better at this, or do I make the same mistakes in every post? Can I use what I’m putting up here in a book down the line? Will a publication read this stuff and want to hire me?

Last week, I went back to the travel posts I wrote last summer and pasted all of them into a single word document. It covered twenty single-spaced pages. I have read part of it and have tweaked two pages of it. I’m grateful that I wrote all of this stuff down, and when I reread it, I can flesh out the details and improve the flow. Here’s to making it the best it can be.

Random shot of downtown Lincoln

Random shot of downtown Lincoln

Writing Starts on the Trail, and Other Techniques

A few weeks ago, I shared a writing technique that I use to jump start myself when I’m down. Today, here’s some more strategies that I use to write.

When I go for an hour walk, I start with a cluttered head and let that head sort itself out. Some people listen to music to get a clear ahead, but that usually does not help me. When I walk, I make mental notes of my most passionate thoughts, and what other thoughts are in association with that main thought. The raw form of a post usually comes out without a specific category. Sometimes it’s an obvious container, like a Nebraska football game or a trip I was on, but when it’s something like a personal update or assessing a book, then it can be tricky to find the starting point. And in this process, the starting point may not be the main point.

When I get home from my walk, I (try to) go to my computer or to a pad, turn on some music, and begin writing. This stage is more about getting all the points out, not putting them in order (that’s rewriting). Once I get going, it usually takes an hour and 500-700 words to get a solid post out, and I almost always go one or two points more than I should. I never outline, although sometimes I just write down one thought to see if anything follows it. If not, I move on.

The rewriting can be the most frustrating. My minimum rewriting requirements is that I get all of the spelling grammar errors out and get the flow working. If it’s a post about TV or movies or something else I don’t see as part of a larger market I’m putting forward, I don’t labor over it like I do my travel posts or my posts on Husker Max. There is a point where the extra labor is not being used productively, although more often than not I could have done more.

The one thing I have learn as a writer is that I will always have more ideas than I will know what to do with. If I type a sentence and nothing else comes, I tear myself away. Some of these I have come back to, others I’ve forgotten. Ideas want to get out, but if nothing follows the initial thought, it’s always good to let be as it is.

And there’s never any shame in sitting on ideas, if nothing coherently comes  The World War Z article was one that I waited to write until the movie came out. I knew back in January it was something that I wanted to write about because of how much the story of Jesika tore at me, but I needed to figure out how. (Frankly, I’m still not happy with the way that post turned out, but that’s the way it goes. At least I got it out.)

Site of most of meditation, on a bright fall night at sunset...

Site of most of meditation, on a bright fall night at sunset…

Writing Tips: Every Day Writing

I suppose given how much I blog, I owe it to my readers to share some tips on how to write and how to break out of writer’s block. It said that the best writing advice is, write every single day, and a lot. But what?

The easiest idea I can tell you, dear readers, is to write down everything you did for the last week or twenty-four hours, even if you just make a list of actions and attitudes. Here’s an example I did earlier this week.

(My Road Notes posts also reflect this strategy.)

Last night, I was trying to get my sleep schedule back on track. I came in around 8:30 from mowing the lawn and showered. I then watched Terminator 3, a movie I can’t believe is 10 years old already. I can remember when I saw it in the Rivoli back in 2003, and the film had the biggest greenlit budget at time. It doesn’t feel as dated; actually, the CGI in it seems restrained compared to how much is in current movies. I started the movie at nine when I was eating dinner and finished the movie at 11. I had such a plan-I would skip my afternoon nap, and then I would go bed early and get my sleep schedule back on track. Of course, I still needlessly read on my kindle for thirty minutes or so before I managed to turn my light out at 11:36

Then my alarm went off at midnight. I had accidentally turned it to on when I shut off the radio yesterday. This time around, I set the alarm to 8 to avoid any future upsets. The disturbance in my sleep costs me forty-five minutes.

So this morning, I became conscious for the first time around five, and after fifteen minutes, I got up to start a load of lights. Then I went back to bed, and drifted between sleep and waking for a little while longer. Around seven, I forced myself up and began reading on my kindle.

That’s pretty simple, and it’s mostly actions, but it needs work. Usually, I find you have to write a certain number of actions to get a judgment or an assessment. Take the first paragraph. The judgment or assessment is I was trying to get my sleep schedule back on track in the evening. Under the that mindset, I worked outside, watched TV, and I read. There was a bad habit in that paragraph, namely the tangent I go on with my memories of Terminator 3. That is one thing that I do often in my drafts that I try to get out in my final versions as much as I can, spending too much time talking about a sub-point which has nothing to do with the main article. Usually, when I get to the judgment, I have an idea of what I need to build the post around. All of the rest of the writing needs to be taking out points that don’t support it and refining the ones that do.

Here’s another example of this strategy.

Utensils....

Utensils…

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