The Wrong End of the Pencil

PencilWhen we were kids, my brother and I turned our attic into a studio and covered the walls with sketches. He put his drawings up on one side and I put mine on the other. This made it painfully clear whose work was better. By a long shot.

It is just the way it was. He was better at everything. He still is. He is one of those rare and gifted people who are good at whatever they do, which for me was, and still is, a hard shadow to walk in.

One day while we were working, he said, “I know your problem.”

“What?” I asked.

“You use the wrong end of the pencil.”

He was right. I would rub the erasers off an entire pack of pencils before I dulled my first point. Sometimes, I was so overwhelmed by the urge to revise that I applied the eraser to a blank page.

“Maybe you should start with carbon paper,” he joked, “and work back from there.”

Being desperate, I tried it.. No luck. I wore away just as many erasers rubbing holes in the carbon paper.

These days he is an artist and I write but little has changed. He still works with clean, effortless lines while I chase my muse through tangled thickets of prose.

What has changed is that I don’t worry about it any more. He has his style, I have mine and I am no longer intimidated by the grace that allows him to get by with less effort.

Back in the attic, I flipped the pencil over once I realized that the line it formed did not match the line in my imagination. Now when the same thing happens with my writing, I don’t let it stop me.

This happens to a lot of developing writers. They start to write, stop, reread what they wrote and get hung up because it does not measure up to what is in their mind.

Sometimes they even believe the myth that great writing flows effortlessly from the fingers of great writers. The truth is, very few writers work like that.

I will never work as painlessly as my brother but I find the more I write, the more my writing mirrors what’s in my imagination.

It is all about moving forward and using the backspace or delete key, moves the writing backward. So when I compose my first drafts, or just write for practice, I use the keys that put words on the screen and avoid those that take them off.

Author: Almost Iowa

www.almostiowa.com

28 thoughts on “The Wrong End of the Pencil”

  1. Does your brother’s house have stairs? Get him a cat. At least then, he’ll be ungracefully tripping several times a day–and his effortless lines will occasionally be pawprinted (“felined”?).

    I taught for only five years. East L.A. fifth graders (theoretical fifth graders, who began each school year with skills testing at low 2nd grade level). They, too, were big fans of the eraser. So I took away their pencils and gave them pens.

    Mean teacher strikes again!

    (I also taught them cursive to reduce hand fatigue–it takes only 2-3 class sessions–easy to teach and learn if letters are painted large in the air first with the hand to teach the direction of “travel”.)

    Writing is an awful struggle for me, unless I’m writing for someone else. Despite years of doing it, my writing is always a disappointment–with the same simple adjectives and phrases used repetitively–and it always comes so slowly. But I cannot not write. How else can one think something through thoroughly?

                    1. Goodness, not me. I put together two published anthologies, Twisted Shorties, and Greg was one of the editors. I had to be very pushy getting him all the editors to help with stories written by 49 authors—basically pushing them to respond. They considered my title as ‘Chief Nagger.” BTW, it’s free on Smashwords.

      1. Just downloaded “Twisted Shorties”. Will begin this wkend–reading three other books right now. Thank you (again)!

        I’m impressed. Had skimmed your About page, but it hadn’t really sunk in. A really-real Editor. Someone who has the power to select, hone, and elevate. Wow. (I really am impressed with someone who can be a successful editor.)

        My brother played basketball with Eddie Murphy once, and asked him “Will you sweat on me?”

        Perhaps I should ask you: “Will you prod me with your crimson pencil of power?”

        Okay. That just sounded nasty.

          1. You decide which pieces belong in collections. Authors get their works chosen and seen because of you. Say, with your fellows in the field: “Are ve not Editors?”

            Thank you for the link. I’ll click as soon as I’m finished doing way, way TMI here:

            Am I published? Good one. The sting of that rejection when I was 14 (described in my Summer of the Naked Bear) lasted until I was 17, when I submitted a piece anonymously to the high school literary magazine. Since I was staff, I got to sit in while the editors, my good friends, laughed raucously and took turns tearing it apart, cliche by cliche.

            I don’t believe in getting back up on the horse. I’m more one for hurrying ahead to the next jump and positioning myself strategically ahead of it, laying down under the perfect landing spot.

            Besides, what would I submit, to whom and where? My pieces are all over the place, like my blog. And if the blog represents waters-testing, my less than 100 followers after three years indicates a less-than-likely market for anything that comes with a cost attached.

            I did write three mini-books in ’06, just for me, and I now dip into them for posts. ‘Cause I have to write. Can’t help it. Paid this year to speak with an agent, who felt I would have to sew everything that ever happened to me together in one big slog to make it marketable. Yeeeg. Too big a mountain for this feeb to climb. Why would any reader want to?

            1. Because. What’s wrong with your own anthology? It always makes me happy when my friends publish, even it they don’t sell their work. Just really cool to say your published and these days publishing can be for free. Who needs a gull durned editor or publisher? Heck, I helped Elsie (a cyber friend for many years) publish her book of poems on Amazon. So, I say climb that mountain. If you gotta’ write, you gotta’ publish. Hah, and if you want, I’ll help where I can and where I’m actually good at.

              Note to Greg: Sorry about taking so my space in your post, but Out was your friend and I really like him/her (or as Len would put it, her/him).

              1. It never occurred to me to feel guilt for spewing all over Greg’s blog like this. Must correct misunderstanding, too: He doesn’t know me from Eve. I’ve simply read a couple of his posts and enjoyed them. So how rude am I?

                You are MORE than thoughtful:
                Offering to help me publish? Wow. Have been told more than once I don’t know how to ask for help, and don’t accept it often enough when offered, so: I am going to take you up on that. Thank you VERY MUCH. I would like to publish my disease-y book, which is a little bit funny. I’m planning to rewrite it, and was going to do so by posting it to the blog as a series–or perhaps to a new blog. So it will sort of rewrite itself that way. Plus, I’ll find out if it’s any good by how my 20 loyal readers react. 🙂

                Thank you, again for your kindness.

                And thank YOU, Greg, in absentia 🙂

                  1. Hey, don’t worry about speweing on my blog. It’s what it is there for. I am still flicking in and out of the grid until next Wednesday when I pull the plug on my career and careen off to Europe.

                    I will be attending a fairy tale there. A lovely, lovely girl is marrying a wonderful, wonderful man in a castle and I have been invited.

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