Michael's Musings

Writer Wednesday: Rules For Writers #2

(Writer Wednesday is a weekly feature I’ll be doing where I discuss my current projects, writing hurdles, and my process in general.)

Last week, I shared the first of my “Four Rules for Writers,” which is the name of the writing talk I’ve taken on the road to schools in a handful of states, and also shared over Skype and Polycom with many more.

(By the way: thanks to the third graders of Memorial Elementary School in Newton, NH for having me as your guest yesterday! You were a great audience; I hope the tips helped. By the way, I never mentioned this during my talk, but in a funny little coincidence, Memorial Elementary happens to have been the name of my elementary school when I lived in New York.)

Anyhow, this week, I’d like to share Rule #2 from this list of writerly principles that have carried me through many a year.

Rule #2: Listen

This rule has two meanings. The first meaning of Listen is this: being a writer is like being a detective; stories are hiding everywhere, often in plain sight, and its the writer’s job to ferret them out. How do you do that? By paying attention. Listen means observe. Listen means research. Listen means investigate. It’s all about cataloging your day-to-day experience and seeking inspiration from the plain and mundane. Do all of those things regularly enough and you’ll find that the world is just dying to tell you a story.

When I talk about Listen, though, I also mean that it’s important to literally listen to the sound of words aloud. Read others’ work aloud; even more importantly, read your own work aloud. That’s a key component to my own revision process, and I highly recommend it. Bad sentences are powerless against the power of a read-aloud. Reading aloud forces you to slow down and re-examine every word, every phrasing — it reveals your rhythms (or lack thereof). Every single thing I write goes under the read-aloud test before I send it off to be edited.

So those are the two parts of my second Rule For Writers, Listen. Next week, I’ll get to rule number three: the fun, wild, rambunctious Imagine.

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