A Novel Approach

Welcome to A Novel Aproach, a weekly note about writing. The Military Writers Society of America asked me to write a weekly note with tips for writing, cruel payment (or punishment) for honoring me as the 2011 Author of the Year for Engaged in War. To their dismay, I agreed.

For the next year I will post a tweet and a comment in this blog that has to do with writing – ideas, suggestions to get past a tough spot in your work, things others have done, things you might avoid. This isn’t an act of genius on my part – mostly I’ll be passing on wisdom from other writers, spun through my peculiar way of thinking and filtered through my word processor.

Join us and follow us. I’ll post the tip on Twitter at JWLBooks, and the full note on Facebook at Jack Woodville London, at the MWSA site, and right here at the blog.

And, to start, here is the first tip.

Read authors you like, then analyze why you like their work.

I attended a fiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 where Jennifer Egan, who had just won a Pulitzer, was presenting. Someone asked her how she had been able to say so much in just a couple of paragraphs. Her answer: “It’s not a secret. It’s all there on the page in front of you…” I’m pretty sure she wasn’t inviting plagiarism; she was saying that the secret to writing is not a secret. It is reading, then studying, then composing.

Do you like the way an author has with words, clever and crisp, or with subjects, cowboys or spies or valor in combat? History or historical fiction? On careful study, you will see that the books or authors you like have a way of writing a sentence that becomes a paragraph, a cadence in the structure, that weaves for you, the reader, something appealing.
Prop open one of their books, find a passage you like, then turn on your word processor and try to compose a sentence of prose in the same cadence that your author has done. Try to compose a couple of lines of dialogue that evoke the speech patterns that appeal to you – not the words, but the patterns. Write a paragraph, then another. Stay with it until your mind thinks, however briefly, in those patterns.

Sounds like work, and it is, but – you can do this. And, you have to admit, you must love to read or you wouldn’t be writing.

See you next week. Oh – if you have a tip, pass it along. If you want one, ask.

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