No matter where in the world I go, when I get into a taxi, it’s almost word for word the same
conversation (provided the driver speaks English)
“So, why have you come to XXXX (name of country)?”
“I’m attending a writers’ conference.”
“You’re a writer. Have I read any of your books?”
So now I say I’m a tourist and enjoy a (hopefully quiet journey into the city). But at writers’ conferences, almost everybody in the audience wants to know how to write a novel. They usually have a brilliant idea which, naturally, will become not only a global No. 1 international sensation (they write the promotional blurb on the book before they’ve written a word of narrative), and the idea will be purchased by Hollywood for zillions. Ok, but it’s not quite that easy. First they have to write the novel, and that takes a lot more than a good idea.
When I’m lecturing to Masters or other graduate course in creative writing, there are two pieces of advice which always take people by surprise. Yet when they return the following week, they’re amazed by how it’s changed their perspective on what they’ve written. So here they are:
• When you’ve finished the section you’ve just written, be it a page or a chapter, put it away for three or four days; don’t look at it; don’t edit it immediately; let it stew, fester, evolve and develop in the darkness of the computer. Then, after half a week, bring it back onto the screen and re-read it. You’ll be amazed at how the work of Shakespearean genius you wrote some days ago, has turned into amateurish drivel in desperate need of editing.
• Read your work aloud. Go into a room away from family or friends, close the door, and read your work aloud. Not to yourself, but aloud. By reading your work aloud, it’ll slow your mind and stop you racing ahead; it’ll enable you to hear the lack of musicality of the sentence; you’ll hear the awkward constructions, the inappropriate metaphors, the clumsy overuse of adverbs, the syntactical pitfalls. Reading to yourself uses just a few of your senses; it misses out on the most important, which is the sense
Try these two simple techniques, and I’ll bet that it immediately improves your writing.