Monday, December 17, 2012

Driving Miss Manuscript

#37 Read like a Writer.

I write and I read. I started writing after spending a few decades reading. Now I read differently.

When I was a tender lad, I'd ride in my car with my dad driving. Mom didn't drive. We'd go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house. I'd look out the window and take in the scenery, the neighbors, the golfers when the weather was warm, the birds, and an occasional deer back away from the road. Or, as often as not, I'd have my nose in a book blissfully unaware of anything save the occasional bump in the road.

I might look at the radio to find out what station was playing, but I seldom looked at the dashboard. I didn't notice whether the speedometer was 35 or 70 mph. I didn't notice whether any of the gauges for oil pressure or temperature. And I didn't pay much attention to the road conditions, traffic, or signage.

Then I took driver's ed and got a driver's license.

The trip to Grandmother's house changed. We were in the same car with the same parents and the same siblings driving the same road.

But I noticed that Dad would cut the corner when he turned left onto our street. That wasn't how I was taught. And I noticed that I was watching more than just how he turn, but how he solved the navigation problem of where to turn. All those things I did not pay attention to heretofore were now getting noticed.

It is a different thing for a non-driver to be a passenger than it is for a driver to be a passenger. Every so often I'll go up in an airplane with my friend Scott. He is a pilot. I am a passenger. If I ever get my ticket, flying will change, too.

I hope you've experienced something like this yourself. You've had some activity where you've transitioned from mere spectator to participant.

If you write, you should take a fresh look at how you read. When you read, do you notice how the other guy turned a phrase?
Do you notice how characters move through the story?
Do you notice whether they have realistic motivations for their story goals and actions?
Do you see how the various "rules" (or mantras) of writing are obeyed, broken, or played against one another?
Do you recognize the problems the other guy faced in putting his story into words and can you learn from how s/he solved them?
Maybe this is too much work, or it takes the fun out of reading. That's fair and I understand.

You don't have to read like a writer every time, but I'll wager your writing will improve if you read like a writer at least part of the time.

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