Archive for May, 2008
In order to make ends meet, I’ve been typing manuscripts for an acquaintance who loves to write. She is not anywhere close to the twenty-first century; all her manuscripts are written by hand, in pencil. Luckily, she has excellent penmanship even if the pencil is at times a bit difficult to see.
This writer is very prolific. In the three years I have known her, she has POD published over thirty books. She hand-writes faster than I can type. She never seems to run out of ideas, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. But it’s not all a bed of roses.
When I started typing for her, she wasn’t very good. Rank beginner, that’s where I placed her skill level. Therefore, I was looking forward to watching her grow as a writer. After all, if you spend most of your time writing, you have to improve, right? That’s what I thought, anyway; the very act of constant writing would result in experimenting with different and better ways of putting words together. But that’s not the case. Her thirtieth book is no better than her first book. She expresses herself in the same, stilted way, uses the same favorite words and phrases constantly, holds onto the same awkward sentence structures, and makes the same mistakes over and over again. Rank beginner, still.
After I got over my astonishment, I began to wonder why there’s been no improvement in her work; no growth in word usage, no development in style, no freshness of expression, no advancement of theme, no depth of exploration. As I got to know her better on a personal level, the answer finally hit me: She doesn’t read. She’s a television watcher who eschews fiction. She watches travelogues, history programs and some science if it resembles travelogues. She has forgotten how words look on the printed page, seems ignorant of the interplay between story concept and dramatic tension. She is totally unaware of how other writers express ideas, how they play with sentence structure to lead a reader deeper and deeper into a story, how they use words to entice, entrance and captivate their reading audience.
I’m a natural-born reader. I read everything I can get my eyes on, even the fine print on cereal boxes. It’s a dry week for me if I haven’t finished at least two books. So I’ve never had any problem with the notion of reading being important for writers. But I don’t think I ever until now realized just why – beyond knowing what’s out there so I don’t duplicate it – reading is so inextricably woven into good writing. Each time we read, we absorb alternate ways of viewing our world. We discover new ways of putting words together and turning phrases to bewitch our readers. With every word, every sentence we read, we analyze – on a subconscious level – what works and what doesn’t, so that when we sit down in front of our piece of paper (computer) and pick up our pencil (keyboard) we don’t duplicate the mistakes any more than the successes of someone else. Reading is what turns the spotlight onto the path, so that we can see our way to developing our own unique vision and style.
Good writing doesn’t just happen in classes, critique groups or through solitary midnight angst. The ground is being prepared everytime we open a book, periodical or newspaper and start to read. Reading is the fertilizer we need to grow as writers. Without it, whatever seeds of talent we possess may sprout, but they will stagnate in the seedling stage. They will never reach, stretch or grow into the full maturity of vivid, exciting, compelling writing. And with that, I’m out of here. There’s a new J.D. Robb mystery calling to me. Gotta go fertilize!No comments