Sundays were special in my house. My father went out early to church, and would bring home Sunday newspapers. The Trenton Times, sometimes The Philadelphia Inquirer, but always The New York Times. I paged through it like the treasure it was. The articles may have been over my head, but I knew lyrical writing when I read it, even as a kid. Photo captions captivated me with concise, but imaginative, descriptions. Opening The New York Times Magazine was like stepping into a magical world, a fantasy where people owned etched Steuben Glass, and ads portrayed products that could make you feel as if you’d gone back in time to the Taj Mahal. Oh yes, the Times inspired many bad poems when I was young.
I’m not sure when the Times began its Writers on Writing series. I missed most of them until I learned they’d been compiled into a handy volume. I eagerly awaited the second volume, and sent for it right away.
Just yesterday, I found a link to all the essays, supposedly (it looks to be missing a few, to me, but hey, you can’t have it all.)
Also yesterday I happened across Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing. Rules Mr. Leonard claims help him “remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story.” Something I know I need to work on. I'd suggest reading the entire article to get the full effect, but boiled down, the rules are:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things. (Unless you’re Margaret Atwood)
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
The most basic rule, according to Leonard, is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Not everyone can write like Elmore, and not everyone should. Apply the rules to your own writing, though, and a clean, clear voice will emerge.
And of course, because everything in the universe can be found on YouTube these days, here’s a Writers on Writing video, consisting of mostly one-line quotes from writers.
The Epictetus quote displayed is one of several I have taped to my writing desk. The others are:
It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. - Robert Southey
The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. - Mark Twain
Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. - Barbara Kingsolver
I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper. - Steve Martin