Writing for an Audience (and how I learned to type)

When I was in high school, most computers were epic-sized machines owned only by businesses with boatloads of money at their disposal. No mortal person who made less than a king’s salary could actually afford to own a computer, and even if you could afford one, computers were so big they would take up your entire living room. Back then when a student had to type a paper for school, we used something called a TYPEWRITER.

Now, for the record, typewriters were better for doing a school paper than using a pen or a pencil—but only if you actually knew how to type. When I first started high school I only knew how to hunt and peck my way around a keyboard. The first time one of my teachers assigned a term paper that had to be typed, naturally, in typical high school fashion, I waited until the night before it was due to start typing it.

First, I had to dig out and dust off the old typewriter that had been in the family probably since the Eisenhower years.  It was a manual typewriter--i.e. a typewriter that doesn’t run on electricity or batteries but only on human finger power. I stayed up most of the night, desperately fumbling around the typewriter keys to find where the correct letters were located. The word “delete” hadn’t even been invented yet, and too many mistakes on a page meant starting the whole page over. Major frustration and a lot of ripped up paper happened that night as I banged out the assignment. The next morning I headed to school with a term-paper hangover and the realization that I needed to learn how to handle my typewriter better to avoid suffering through another typing binge like that again.

When course selection time came around for the next school year I signed up for “Intro to Typing.”  My sister who was a year ahead of me in school also happened to sign up for it, and as luck would have it—or perhaps due to the sisterly scheming we did—the two of us ended up in the same typing class.

Each day in class we were given a typing assignment, and after we finished it the teacher let us spend the rest of the class practicing on our own. During the practice time we were allowed to type anything we wanted, whether it be other class assignments, NFL sports stats, or all the swear words in the dictionary. My sister and I always spent that practice time typing letters to each other. We’d make our letters as funny as we could, and as we typed them, the two of us would be giggling to ourselves because we thought they were the funniest things ever written. At the end of class we’d exchange letters before going our separate ways to our next class. The rule was we weren’t allowed to read the other person’s letter until we were sitting in a really boring class--which, to us, meant pretty much any of them. When we were sitting in that boring class NOT listening to the teacher, we would sneakily read the letter. Our goal was to write such a funny letter that we would make the other person laugh out loud in class. It happened many times when one or the other of us burst out laughing in an otherwise quiet classroom because of something the other had written.

Not only did we type letters to each other in typing class, but anytime we were withering away in boredom in any class we’d write each other notes. Sometimes we would write the usual “algebra is sooooooo boring…,”  but mostly, we wrote notes loaded with tons of inside jokes that were only funny to us.  As we passed in the hall between classes, we’d hand off our notes to each other, then we’d sit in our next class stifling giggles or out loud laughs from all the goofy stuff the other person had written. 

 I still have the notes my sister wrote me in high school, both the typed ones and the hand written ones. I saved all hers and she saved all mine. Now when we read them, we don’t understand half the inside jokes we wrote in them—memory purges over the years wiped out the stories surrounding the jokes. Even though we can’t always remember what made them funny to us when we were in high school, they still make us laugh because now they are so NOT funny, they’re funny. The grammar was terrible, the spelling was worse, but we reached our goal of entertaining our audience (in our cases, each other).  

I credit my high school notes to my sister as being an exercise in learning to write for an audience. Sure, a person can write for fame or fortunate, but isn’t entertaining your audience what really makes writing successful?

Friday’s Celebrate the Small Things on Monday - Successful Book Sale!

I didn’t have time to post last Friday’s “Celebrate the Small Things” so I’m posting it today instead—a few days late, but…oh, well. Welcome to the We-Don’t-Follow-No-Stinkin’-Rules Blog. Okay…just kidding (sort of). Friday I was too busy to sit down, no less sit down at my computer and post something to my blog. For those visitors hearing about the “Celebrate the Small Things” for the first time, take a look at my previous post to see what it’s all about.

This week I’m celebrating my local library’s successful book sale. Twice a year a group of volunteers put their lives on hold for a week to run a used book sale at our local library. During book sale week, the volunteers’ families don’t get fed, their dirty laundry piles up, and everything in their personal lives gets put on hold because by the end of the day they’re too tired to want to do anything but sleep. I’m one of those masochist volunteers who helps with the book sale (and, yeah, lets my dirty laundry pile up).

Although the public only sees volunteers working during the sale (keeping the books organized, helping people find books, or carrying books to customers’ cars) some volunteers work all year long getting things ready for the sale. A group of people collect, sort, and stack mountains of books for months leading up to the sale, plus start advertising the sale well before it happens. Then the week of the sale as many bodies as can be recruited lug thousands of books out of the storage area and to the sales room.  Anywhere from two to three full days are spent getting the sales room set up with all the books in their proper categories. The actual book sale lasts only three and a half days—although to those of us working it, it seems so much longer. Those are the days we only have time to shovel in handfuls of M&Ms for nutrition and when we start to notice how neglected our yards are looking as we pull out of the driveway each morning. After the sale is over, it takes several more hours to pack up and move the leftover books to wherever else they end up. Running the book sale takes a lot of sacrifice and hard work by a devoted group of people--or by a group of zombie-like creatures who don't know better. It hasn't definitely been established which category the volunteers fall into.

Why do these volunteers do this year after year, putting in countless hours without being paid? First off, maybe no one told them that slavery is illegal in this country. Okay...kidding again. Maybe. Or, perhaps they just appreciate how many people benefit from the book sale. Local people get to de-clutter their houses of excess books they no longer want. People coming to the sale get to buy books they DO want at bargain prices. Parents tend to buy their children tons more books than they ever could afford to buy new. Students and teachers also get to buy books that they also couldn’t afford to buy new. Adults find books they had as children. Dealers and other lucky customers occasionally find books that are worth a lot of money on the secondary market. Our two town libraries get extra money for things their regular budget doesn’t cover, and those items that get purchased or the programs they offer benefit the community. And…this year, the leftover books will be donated to help set up libraries in underprivileged areas of Africa, so the sale is even helping people in other parts of the world. It’s a win-win-win-win-win situation.

As a writer, I want people to read, and offering low costs books helps encourage reading. Also, helping with this sale gives me a  boot-camp-worthy workout from all the lugging, lifting, moving, and shelving books. Why pay to join a gym when I can get a complete workout (for free) helping the community?

So, this week I am celebrating successfully raising money for a good cause, promoting reading to people in the community, donating leftover books to areas of the world that don't have the luxury of books available like we do, plus getting physically fit in the process.

Now, if only I could find some volunteers to tackle the mountains of dirty laundry piled up in my house I’d celebrate even more. Please leave a comment and make my day (not as much as if you came to my house and did my laundry for me, but I guess I can’t get too greedy here, can I?)

Facebook and Twitter and Blogs (et al.)

Most of us know how easily social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads can become time-sucking vortexes. Sure, some of those sites are great places to network, but they are also places to lose a full day of work. Or a full week. In order to build up a following on any networking site, you must post regularly, as well as respond to your followers’ posts because obviously, it’s important to give as much as you take. While you’re busy posting, sharing, reading, and responding, you have less time for actual working.

About 6 years ago, I got sucked into Flickr. As a hobbyist photographer who likes to take nature pictures, Flickr was a great place to showcase my photos and get feedback on them. I spent many hours posting my nature photos, then basking in the ego-stroking comments viewers made about them. I loved getting those comments, and of course, I’d return the favor by commenting back on other people’s photos. Meanwhile, I was spending less time writing and more time taking pictures, uploading them, posting them to different Flickr groups for the extra exposure they’d get, and commenting on other people’s photos, hoping they’d comment on mine too. Appropriately, my screen name on Flickr was writergoofnoff. The more I got involved with taking photos for Flickr, the less I spent on writing.

Once I weaned myself from posting there, I moved on to another time-slaying social site—Facebook. At first I could justify spending time on Facebook because I was promoting my vintage toy business there. However, it didn’t take long for the promotional stuff to be overtaken by the need to see what everyone else was posting on Facebook—their family pictures, their latest venture, what they ate for breakfast. Soon it became apparent that I couldn’t let the day go by without finding out what all my Facebook friends were up to, not just once a day, but all day long. Naturally, checking all those statuses was cutting into my writing time.

Around the same time I also started my blog—which initially was a place for visitors of my website to get to know me better as a writer. Only instead of spending time writing stuff for my own blog, I ended up reading everyone else's. And commenting on them. By the time I finished reading all the blogs my constantly-clicking mouse led me to, I was overdosing on higher levels of the recommended amount of information a person should consume in one day. After all that blog hopping, I was usually too incapacitated to work on my own blog.

Don’t even get me started on the more recent time sucking vampire known as Pinterest. While I haven’t (yet) signed up there fearing there aren’t enough hours left in the day to start pinning photos, I’ve spent more time the last month perusing photos other people have pinned than I’ve spent making meals for my family. Every day there are new sites out there vying for my attention, causing me to put off other things of lesser importance—like doing laundry…or eating.

As if visiting writing sites, posting on discussion boards, reading blogs, facebooking (that’s a verb, right?), tweeting, twittering, tracking, and tapping into every social networking site isn’t taking up enough of my time, I managed to find another way to be unproductive—by creating fun stuff like this nifty cover for the book I really should write some day:

If you want to be unproductive like me and want to see the cover of your book (or your dog, your boyfriend, or yourself) in a museum,

if you enjoy making custom post-it-notes like this,

...or if you want to see your picture on the cover of a magazine, your face on a different body, or want to play with a random insult generator so you’re fully armed for the next jerk who comes along, add the site  to the online places you visit—just in case you need one more excuse to keep from working or cooking dinner for your family. Or writing your next book.