Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen


The Bones of Blogging

Image by cliff1066 (via flickr)

Image by cliff1066 (via flickr)

When I agreed to start a blog with Alli and Maria I knew that I was up for a challenge. I like to consider myself a writer. I can form grammatically correct sentences and succinctly convey my thoughts. I often develop characters and storylines for my own amusement. And I dish out witty prose over e-mail that occasionally makes people laugh. But, writers write, and outside of legal opinions and other professional documents, I don’t do much writing. I don’t know where to start.

For over three weeks I have delayed posting a new entry. I spent that time “researching.” This research was uncharted. In fact, I only call it research now because I justified each distraction with the thought that it would help me decide what and how to write. My research took me to literature, grammar reference books, and Facebook.

First, I read several letters and early short stories by Jane Austen. Although I’ve previously read all of Austen’s novels, I hadn’t encountered the works from her teenage years. Even in her youth, Austen could turn a plot into the unexpected and expose the ironies and humanity of her characters, rewarding the good and giving the selfish their just dues. But in her early fiction, Austen only presents the bare bones of the stories. She doesn’t complicate the characters with emotions. She tells rather than shows and concentrates her observations of people into a few pages, or lines, of text. Reading these stories made me think that Austen would have loved Twitter, especially while she was young.

In between Austen stories, I breezed through Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Grammar Girl breaks down common mishaps of the English language into a logical format, with conversational explanations. She’s funny too. Grammar Girl showed me that I know grammar and made me feel cool, not geeky, in coming to that realization. I started following Grammar Girl on Twitter, and I put Grammar Girl on my bookshelf space formerly occupied by Strunk & White. I will probably give the Grammar Girl gift to multiple people over the next year as a means of encouraging them to write (and blog).

Finally, I bowed to the latest Facebook trend: 25 Things. My friend and former roommate got me started on this, but the concept spread quickly through my friend list. I jumped on the bandwagon and brainstormed a list of 25 experiences and ideas that have shaped me. Interestingly, I had seen a different version of the 25 Things concept earlier in the week on a blog that came through on my Twitter feed. That version required the author to write seven things that he or she had given up or stopped doing. Either version seems like a good writing exercise, like something from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. With this comparison, I came full circle to my observation upon reading early Austen: begin with the bones.

Several years ago, I took a storytelling course at the community college in my southwest Washington logging town. The instructor taught us how to tell stories by deconstructing the tales to the bones of the narrative. The bones give the basic structure. By remembering the bones, a storyteller can work through the plot of the story while giving each telling its own mark of spontaneous details.

The bones and blogging go hand-in-hand. When blogging, I may need to write the bones first, as Austen did. Blogging the bones may suffice. In other cases, I may need to deconstruct the bigger idea, as Grammar Girl does. For now, I have decided on my bones of blogging:

1. Set a blog posting deadline for each Wednesday
2. Keep a notebook or electronic document at hand to capture ideas throughout the week (Twitter may work for this too)
3. Read blogs to identify different styles and feel more comfortable projecting my own voice
4. Write, write, write


all things good begin with golf

I met Suzanne at a golf outing two years ago.  The tournament was hosted by a mutual business partner at Arrowhead, one of the most beautiful courses in Denver.  The course website entices, “Come play the course that was 300-million years in the making.  Featuring extreme elevation changes, abundant wildlife, rolling terrain, dramatic vistas, and thousands of feet of ancient red sandstone rocks towering majestically above you.”  I couldn’t resist.

Despite the appealing website description, I was nervous about playing.  I’m NOT a great golfer.  Granted, I can hold my own – on a good day with a handicap – but I am not a stellar player.  When I golf with strangers, I stiffen up; under pressure, I begin to crack.  The mere thought of swinging my sticks in front of a bunch of professional peers (none of whom I know and most of whom are men) makes my palms sweat. 

Despite my insecurities, I mustered up the courage to pack up my clubs and play in the tournament.  I rolled up to the clubhouse in my borrowed-from-my-ex Honda Civic just in time to check in and limber up a bit.  I was THRILLED to see that my foursome had another woman player – Suzanne. 

Throughout the round, Suzanne and I became quickly acquainted.  Early on, it was apparent that we were playing that day for very different reasons.  Suzanne was there to build professional relationships; I was there to play.  (I’ll take any opportunity I can get to swing my sticks free of charge and chalk it up as an honest day’s work.) 

Shortly after, Suzanne contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in getting together with her and her friend, Alli, to talk about our careers.  It would be a chance for the three of us to articulate our individual dreams and to establish clear goals to achieve them.  Alli, Suzanne said, shared our common desire to be esteemed and respected for our abilities, hard work and intelligence.

Great idea, I thought, but I wondered what I would ever contribute.  I had similar career aspirations, but I was too different from Alli and Suzanne to add any value.  I don’t have the drive, the dedication or the discipline to do this, I thought.  (Remember:  I agreed to golf in the tournament not to “network”, but to take advantage of a free round and to play hookie from work.)

Nevertheless, I agreed to join Suzanne and Alli for an initial meeting, hoping that their extraordinary personalities would rub off on me.  That was two years ago.

Jane Austen once said, “Everything nourishes what is strong already.”  Welcome to Sunday Brunch.

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