Reading does prompt writing



I always quote Gertrude Stein when it comes to talking about my writing:  “I write for myself and strangers.”

Most of my friends and family have never read anything I’ve written.  And if they have it’s only after outright direct threats from me to get them to read something that I wrote.

I write the kind of stories or books that I WANT to read.   So many books are really good but there is always something missing: details about an interesting house, details about an encounter, etc.

I’m reading a good murder mystery set in Provincetown and there are so many problems with the writing.   What I call “fade to black.”  The writer builds up to an intense personal encounter and then writes “The next morning I felt bad about what happened.”   But… what happened?????  The odd thing about t his writer’s book is that he goes on way too long with so many other details that only bog the story down and add nothing to the reader’s insights.

James Fenimore Cooper wrote and published his first novel, Precaution, in 1820 in response to his wife making a wager with him that he could write a better book than the one she was reading.   And he did.  He went on to write the wildly successful and widely read Leatherstocking series, including The Last of the Mohicans in 1826.

When I write I write the details and description and action that I would like to read or hear about.   I often write far too much, but I’d rather write too much and then go back and cut sentences, paragraphs, pages out than to try to go back and pad out a scene or chapter.

In order to do this I do have to let the writing “sit alone” for awhile so that when I go back and reread what I’ve written and I can more easily see what needs to be cut.  Another technique that I do (and am a firm believer in) is to either record myself reading what I’ve written out loud or even making a video of me reading the writing out loud.  If I find myself stumbling over a passage or if the words don’t flow smoothly and easily as I read them, then something is wrong with the writing.

It really is a great way to “hear” the words and what isn’t working.

I am a relentless editor.  Not only with books I read by other writers but with my own writing.   I love what I write but I’m not so enamored with my own words that I can’t bear to be an objective editor (most of the time).   Writing is fairly easy to do.  Rewriting, revising, and editing is the hard part.    But it is in the rewriting and revising that the words really do shine (if they survive) and the story comes to life.

The only aspect of rewriting and revising that I have to be careful with is to not lose the original spontaneous, natural storytelling quality in the writing.   Sometimes the first words are the best.

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