Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Writers and Readers

I’ve written a lot of technical training materials, knowledge bases and the like. I am always astonished by the reactions I get when I send something out into the world after honing it to what I believe to be a sharp tool. What I think to be clear, concise and economical turns on the page like an artist mixing all of the colors on the palate.

I realize that no matter how hard we writers strive to gain clarity, we will always fall short. Our writing must be sifted through a filter called Reader. No two filters are the same, and none is an exact match for Writer.

When editing my work, I am on the lookout for areas where I know I fall short. I subconsciously slip into the passive voice when I don’t want to come out and say something. Passive voice weakens the overall effect because I’m being evasive and risk losing an opportunity to make a strong point. I am told that I overuse adjective clauses.

Everything comes back to Reader. I try to imagine Reader not as someone reading but rather listening. When I write, can I hear my voice? Will Reader hear it?

Sometimes I am Reader. I like to read writers who have a strong voice, ones who clearly convey humor, drama, anger, fear. When reading the work of such a writer, it seems easy to rise up with my own voice. John Irving, Pat Conroy, Amy Tan are examples of writers who make me want to write. T.H. White’s Once and Future King embodies one of my favorite narrator voices. There are many others. They seem unconscious of being read, as though they were written not to be read but seen.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A writer with experience...

You know, all of the newspapers I wrote for were weeklies. Some didn't even pay me. I started out writing theater reviews. They gave me a pair of tickets and a byline, and I felt overpaid. That's where it started. Once I had been published, it was easy to get other weeklies to let me work for them.

The big deal for a news reporter is to go from the weekly to a daily. That's arriving at the big time. After working for the Star Tribune, I was finally offered a job at a daily in the desert in Southern California. Whoohoo. They offered me an hourly wage of $8.50/hour. This was in 1995.

I turned down the job, moved to Washington and became a computer analyst instead, abandoning the dream of being a writer. I started working on making money. I've come full circle.