Adventures in Writing

By Marvin Druger
Email: mdruger@syr.edu

Marvin DrugerAs any author will tell you, writing is hard work, but fun. My aim in writing articles for 55 PLUS magazine for many years has been to stimulate readers to think about life in a positive way, with humor as a pathway to doing so. We all experience depressing events and humor is a way of fighting against depression. The ultimate humor was my wife’s last words to me just before she passed away: “Marvin, shut up!” Even in death, there can be humor.

People often ask me, “Where do you get your ideas for an article in 55 PLUS magazine? Where does your humor come from?

The humorous writing is the product of personality and experiences. I enjoy having people laugh at my stories. It’s my way of participating in the social world and promoting a helpful perspective. There is humor in every situation and laughter is curative. My ideas for articles just pop into my mind and sometimes are the result of specific personal experiences.

For example, I played bingo at Turning Stone Casino for the first time and that experience resulted in an article (“Bingo at Turning Stone Casino,” 55 PLUS magazine, issue 81, June/July 2019, p. 46). I prepared dough for making doughnuts at Beaver Lake Nature Center’s Golden Harvest Festival, and that resulted in another article (“How to Make Dough,” 55 PLUS magazine, issue 72, December/January 2018, p.46).

I like to share my experiences with readers in a humorous way to enable readers to reflect upon their own life experiences and recognize the uniqueness and commonalities among every one.

I have some tips for readers who may also enjoy expressing their thoughts in writing.

1. Try to make the writing meaningful and interesting. Like any good teacher, you should ask yourself “What would a reader want to know about this topic and why?” Then, write accordingly.

2. Have a message. When giving a lecture in my general biology course at Syracuse University, my goal for each class was to have students learn at least one new thing. After each class, I wanted students to say, “I never thought about it that way before.” For example, I never realized that plants were as alive as animals. In one sense, green plants are even more advanced than we are because they can make their own food in the presence of sunlight (i.e., photosynthesis). Animals cannot do that.

3. To avoid writer’s block, just start writing. Don’t worry about whether your article or book will be a masterpiece. Just start writing. Later, when you review what you have written, you will find the writing was not as bad as you thought it would be. Indeed, you may well be surprised at how good your writing was.

4. Get the job done. Set aside a regular time every day to devote to writing. I learned this lesson from Story Musgrave, the former astronaut who repaired the Hubble telescope in space in 1993. Story has had many accomplishments. He earned a mathematics and statistics degree from Syracuse University and six other academic degrees, including a medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He flew six space missions. I asked him, “How did you accomplish all that?” He replied, “I set my goals and I get the job done.” That’s a great attitude to have a productive life.

5. Don’t underestimate your writing ability or other abilities. You may have more talent than you think. For example, I wrote a poetry book for children and adults, “Strange Creatures and Other Poems.” I wanted to hire an illustrator. I interviewed several individuals, but none could draw the kind of illustrations that I had in mind for each poem. I believed that I could not draw, but I decided to do the illustrations myself. I illustrated the entire book. Later on, a professional artist commented, “Who did the illustrations. They’re great!” So, you may have hidden talents in writing or illustrating or something else that you never knew about.

6. Set a goal for your writing each day. For example, you may decide to write 100 words or 1,000 words a day. When you have finished, reward yourself with an ice cream cone, or just by switching on a light.

7. Writer’s fatigue can set in, so take regular breaks from your writing. Have an occasional snack or drink. Then, you can return to your writing relaxed and eager to write.

8. Stop your writing for the day in the middle of a paragraph. Then your mind thinks about this unfinished paragraph all night, and you awake eager to complete the thought.

9. Keep a pad and pen at your bedside. Some great thoughts for writing may suddenly emerge while you are sleeping, and, if you jot down these thoughts, you will remember them when you awake.

10. Have a dictionary and thesaurus readily available. Undoubtedly, you will forget how to spell a word or you will struggle to think of an appropriate word.

11. Seek criticism. Let someone you trust read the draft of your writing and provide criticism and comments. We all have egos, and sometimes it is difficult to accept criticism. When we say, ”Tell me what you really think,” our ego is really saying, “Tell me that you like what I wrote.” But we have to view criticism as a way of making improvements, and there is always room for improvement in whatever we do.

12. Persevere. There are many examples of now-famous authors who were initially rejected by the publishing world. A prime example is Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). His first book (Mulberry Street) was rejected by 27 publishers before he found one willing to publish his work, leading to world fame and profits for all. So, don’t give up easily.

I never took a formal course in writing, so the above tips reflect my personal experiences in writing. I’m sure that “real” authors can add or subtract from my comments, or disagree with many of them, but these tips work for me.

When you write an article for a journal, it is peer reviewed and possibly rejected. The best thing about writing articles for 55 PLUS magazine is that they publish anything that I write. So, I can enjoy sharing my thoughts and experiences with many individuals.

Their reactions may be positive or negative. When I boasted to a friend that I had taught more than an estimated 50,000 students in my teaching career, he responded, “Yes, You have influenced and offended a lot of people.”

I hope that my articles have not been offensive to any of you, but that they have caused you to reflect on your own life and laugh.

 

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