Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Nitty-Gritty and End Results of Writing by Ruth Smith Meyer

Perusing my notes from several years of WRITE! Canada, my jottings had a definite effect on my reaction to the most recent books I’ve read. 

Over the years, those who attend WRITE! Canada regularly, hear various rules for writing repeated many times.  Here are a few:

            • ·        Your first paragraphs need to contain a hook that will grab your readers and keep them reading through the rest of the book.

·        Choose your focus and make every paragraph move the story along.

·        Don’t go down “rabbit trails.”

·        Most of your writing should be on a grade five level so as not to lose any of your readers.

·        Your title and your book cover need attract your reader and indicate what can be expected inside the covers.

·        Edit, edit, edit—not just for grammar and spelling but to make sure the story flows in a consistent manner.

In most cases it’s wise to follow the rules, but sometimes they can be broken.  One book I recently read had no obvious “hook” in the first paragraphs.  It’s hard to judge what affect that would have had on me, had I not previously met its most charming author and seen first-hand, her enthusiastic spirit and sensed the depth of her experience of life. (But then, I am enough of a reading addict that a slow beginning doesn’t often stop me.  I’m always sure that it’s going to get better and be worth my reading.)  This book definitely was.  For starters much to this dictionary reader’s delight, it wasn’t written on a grade five level. I was elated to read words that tickled the senses and fed the spirit.  I even had to get out my dictionary for one word I hadn’t remembered reading before.  I was like an exited school-girl again, savoring a new word that I could add to my vocabulary.  It’s taken me a little longer than it usually does to read Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber because I don’t want to miss one word of it.  However it’s feeding me and giving me pleasure in a way I haven’t been gratified for some time. 

               Another book that I promised to review has been quite different.  The title and subtitle attracted me because I thought it was a subject that needed to be addressed in this day and age. I could scarcely wait to begin.  Being the eternal optimist, I kept hoping the book would come through with what the cover promised, however the text attempted to address too many side issues and never really got to the core of what I had been expecting.  Perhaps it would have been better for the author to write several books—a tribute to the life of his father, the strengths of and delight in his son, the agony of a breaking marriage, parenting as a divorced father.  It left me with a lot of questions that were never fully addressed.  I admire the author for trying to be vulnerable and honest about a difficult subject and time in his life, but it felt as though he never did come quite clean.  It made me wonder too; about the experienced people who helped edit and critique his book.  Surely they must have realized that rearranging some of the material would have improved the flow and perhaps assisted the reader to make more sense of it. In no way do I wish to be critical of the author—I would just encourage him to be more focused and honest about his feelings.  It is hard to be that vulnerable, but it will be more helpful in what he was aiming at—to be helpful to others going through the same thing.

               There are delights and pitfalls in writing—and reading.  The main purpose of writing is to get the stories out there in a way that will help other people grasp the lessons of life and absorb them into their own experience. 

Writing courses and writer’s conferences can make us much more aware of the things of which we need to be mindful. Even then, when we’re writing, we can’t always see the pitfalls clearly on our own, even with multiple reading.  That’s where friends, proof-readers and good editors and can help us. 

Living life openly and honestly and listening for the whispers of God will also be an advantage to writing in such a way that will allow readers to respond in a personal, meaningful way.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Ruth, thank you for sharing your candid and helpful insights.
You've evidently been diligent in working through your Write! Canada conference notes, and have gained a great deal of knowledge and experience.
The majority of the notes I took at the conferences I attended languish in the folders.
Hmm, maybe that explains in part why my writing languishes.
"Languish" -- now there's a word we don't often hear nowadays! :)

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