Archive for January, 2011

The Art in Writing

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

People often look at me oddly when I mention that I have read some of my favorite books hundreds of times.  Probably the same look I bestow on movie buffs who state they have watched Titanic twenty times.  Both being looks of incomprehension.

I don’t read books for the end of the story.  As a matter of fact, I usually turn to the last page of a mystery to see who it is I have to distrust during the book.  Just to make sure.  I don’t want to become attached to the villain.

I read books for the writing — for the manner in which the author intentionally and gently hooks words together to create a sentence, a paragraph and in the end a story. The same way a jeweler slides pearls on a chain to create a one-of-kind necklace.  Deliberately and with forethought.

I savor a particular adverb, a creative comparison, a boldly chosen adjective that makes the words around it sit up and take notice.  Just like Mark Twin said he could go four months on a good compliment; I can go about that long reflecting on a turn of phrase.

The Power of the 2nd Question

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

If the first rule of writing is Write What You Know, then an integral part of writing is always going to be research. Expanding your knowledge enriches your writing.
Research can become a natural part of your daily life if you’ll learn to ask the second question. Picture this: you’re standing at the counter at the grocery store, watching the clerk blip your food across the scanner. You exchange the obligatory “How are you, today?” (that is question number one), now take a moment and ask yourself what aspect of her job is unknown to you. For example, “What is the worst thing about your job?”
By asking the second question, you take advantage of a teachable moment for yourself, an opportunity to increase your knowledge. Make it one that is easily answered, so you won’t hold up the people behind you in line, but still specific. By asking the second question you are stepping over the day-to-day pool of common knowledge and gaining specialized information that will add depth of your writing. Writing is all in the details, so ask narrow questions that pinpoint a specific facet of their work.
Maybe you’ll discover, as I did, that the worst thing about being a clerk in a grocery store isn’t being on your feet for eight hours, as I had assumed, but rather watching the elderly carefully count out their money and in the end have to put back items in order to afford their groceries for the week.

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