I apologize for my sporadic behavior towards writing this blog. When I first decided to write on a supposedly regular basis, I promised myself not to write about the trivial. I don’t have dogs or cats or fish, so I can’t muse about what they’re doing or thinking. That makes me uncompetitive in the blogging world, but I had hoped rather to write about things significant to the readers of my website: thinking, writing, editing, and publishing, as well as the craft, practice, process, roles and relationships, incidents along the way, and the emotions involved.
Now, at the end of this year, I’m thinking about something that I want to write about and it doesn’t have much to do with writing. However, it is not only significant but critical to the process that is me, so that makes it relevant.
In May of this year, I became sick (acute necrotic pancreatitis). Seriously sick. Serious enough that the emergency room doctor put me into critical care overnight to see if I’d live or die. When they found me still alive the next morning, I was sent to a different hospital for treatment. Not counting December, it’s taken seven months to recuperate and heal. I am about back to where I was, minus a gall bladder and about thirty pounds.
Around the first of June, when I got back home, I couldn’t lay flat or on my side because of the damage to my abdominal organs and tissues, so the best I could do was lay in my recliner for 24 hours a day. I couldn’t read or watch TV for various reasons having to do with concentration and focus and a heightened resentment of commercials, so I either lay still in silence or would occasionally listen to music.
I learned to be still. Yeah, okay, it’s not like I could do anything else, but it’s a mental struggle to do it without guilt or regret or sadness. I had my moments of despair, but, on a repeatable basis, I learned to do nothing but lay in my recliner and be accepting of it. Without sleeping. I listened to myself breathe while I tolerated pain that would not go away. I had narcotics but was off everything by early July.
Jump to the end of the story. I’m now fine. I did have my gall bladder removed in August, with some complications, and I had pain meds and sleeping aids along the way, and now I’m fine. I began sleeping somewhat in a bed in August, walking in September, and was driving somewhat and gaining weight in October. I was pretty much normal by November, though still physically slow and I couldn’t pick up things of much weight. On November 27th, my doctor declared me recovered; my next appointment isn’t until May.
Learning to be still has stuck with me. I can and still do it on a regular basis. I learned that when I am lying still in a recliner, in a house that is empty except for me, and in which there are no activities and little outside noise, I hear a rushing sound. You know when you’re in an empty house and you can hear a faucet that’s been left on upstairs, or a water leak in the basement, or you hear a fluttering from a bird on the outside of the house, or even the scratching of a mouse somewhere in a wall around you? You hear a sound when you’re not sure you’re hearing anything, when all things are supposed to be quiet?
I hear a quiet rushing sound and I’ve decided that it’s the overflowing of joy. For me, maybe not for you. Try almost dying sometime and then see what you hear when you think there’s nothing to hear. I hear the overflowing of joy because I got to live and that sound is my reward for learning to be still and accepting God’s grace when I cannot possibly have done anything to warrant it.
I’ve talked with others about learning to be still and the response is usually “Oh, I can’t do that. I have to be up and moving. I’d die if I couldn’t do anything but lay there.” We are apprehensive that we mortals are expected to be productive and that we won’t be able to stand the guilt if we are not always doing something, as if our products are our worthiness. Instructors who teach meditation probably have the same problem with convincing people that it’s okay to be still and “do” nothing. My being still is probably meditation, in a way, but without the conscious effort to direct my brain. Either way, it’s significant.
Being alive is a considerable accomplishment; it’s a gift we shouldn’t downplay. We should always have moments of stillness in which we hear the rushing sound of joy overflowing. If we also have products, then those are but icing on the cake.
I’ve finished the final draft of my current project, which is a novel about a genius rich guy who kills people for the benefit of America. It’s set against two global calamities: cleaning up the trash in the ocean and pervasive homelessness. They may not sound related, but I create a story that intertwines both. It is a surprisingly good morality tale that has a lot of action, fear, ruthlessness, and dead bodies. I became interested in developing this story because of the current crisis concerning ocean pollution; Featuring the homeless came later.
I’ve submitted the manuscript to my editor and it is in his queue for editing. The cover has been finished and the book’s advertised publication date is April 1, 2019, which means that what I’ve written is definitely on track to become a genuine novel. To this point, it’s been a little more than a year since I wrote down the beginning words, although I spent several years of thinking about it. I was also ready to quit on it back in April, so getting this far is especially sweet.
It may take until after Christmas to get the first edited version back. My editor and I will iterate to something that we’re both happy with, then hand it to a proofreader. When she’s done, it goes to the publisher, who is also the compositor. He moves all the words into a book format, adds the title pages and publishing information, adds the front and back covers, and then ships everything electronically to the printer. The printer creates several copies of the book as proofs and sends them to the publisher, the editor, and me. I will go through the book, send any corrections to the editor for review, and he will send the changes to the publisher, who will then make the changes in the printer’s copy. If everything looks good, the printer will use the new version to produce ARCs – Advanced Review Copies – and the publisher will distribute those copies to various reviewers and readers. The ARCs have a disclaimer that changes to the text may be made.
The purpose of the ARCs is to gleam great quotes that can be added to the cover or to the marketing information for when the book is made publicly available, plus to give us one more chance to catch mistakes or to react to comments from readers. After another iteration, the book will be printed for public distribution. My publisher will create and distribute e-book versions.
Being this careful and repetitious is necessary. One of my books had a whole chapter missing until I discovered it in the proof. I also have found mistakes at the ARC level. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes not. Most people in the chain are not as careful as I am.
At some point, it will all be done and I will have nothing to do but bask in my accomplishment.
Many writers are chock full of ideas and immediately plunge into another novel if they haven’t already started. I’m not driven to multitasking so I spend time mulling my options. I use the now undedicated time to read other fiction books, reviews of fiction books, writing books, other non-fiction books (I’m keen on history and biographies), and generally identify interesting things to put together for an interesting story.
I’ve been thinking of a new story for a few months. I had a friend point me to a book about the history of tuberculosis clinics in the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico. Did you know that tuberculosis was usually the leading cause of death through the 1800s and the first four decades of the 1900s? It was called consumption and it was a miserable way to die. The treatment of the day was in three parts: a good diet, a hot, dry climate, and inactivity. It was also thought that a high altitude was beneficial (the creation of streptomycin in 1944 led to the real cure). Cities in Arizona and New Mexico heavily advertised their climate and care facilities for those people infected with tuberculosis. Large tent cities sprang up around Phoenix, Tucson, Silver City, and Albuquerque. It’s a fascinating history and played a major role in the economic development of both states.
That’s one thought. I also read a couple of books about Preparatory Schools in the early 20th century that were based on ranch life (as in cattle ranches) – outdoor living in ranch environments that taught outdoor survival schools as well as academic courses. It was fascinating stuff and many of the ranch schools were located in Arizona and New Mexico. The Los Alamos Ranch School, in particular, was a nationally recognized ranch school in the 1920s and 1930s.
Along the way, I also read Red Sky at Morning, by Richard Bradford. It’s a story in the World War II timeframe that is a famous “coming of age” story of a young boy. It’s a great story.
Mix those ideas together and I’m thinking of a new story that feels worth writing. It might be a Young Adult novel, which I haven’t done before.
I have to decide whether what I find interesting is interesting enough to use a year of my time and effort to create a story not only exciting to me but to other people. Life is short, so I have to make a good choice.
A significant milestone was reached yesterday—I submitted my final draft of my new book, The King of Trash, to my editor. Unfortunately, I had already sent him a final draft on November 1st, preceded by a different final draft on October 1st, which was preceded by a different final draft I sent on September 8th.
I must be confused about what “final” means.
Fortunately for me, since September, my editor has been through a couple of eye surgeries, a computer disaster, and had a couple of books to edit before he was ready for mine. Knowing this, I took advantage of the opportunity, each time, to go through my book again.
During this last rewrite of my book, done during the last two weeks, I deleted 3,000 words, added 500, and made another hundred or so small changes. Wait a minute. How could the others have been “final” drafts if I found so much wrong with this last one?
Frankly, I don’t understand either. I saw things to be changed this last time that I hadn’t seen in my other drafts, or maybe I wanted to change the order of the scenes, or maybe I heard different music this time, or saw a new way of developing the dialogue, or that I read the story more as a reader than as a writer. I am, without question, an iterative person and I’ve written a previous blog about how I can never stop working on a story. I’m just confirming that it’s happening with this one, too.
I have a good editor and he’s tolerant of me, but there is a point at which he and I both know that I have to quit rewriting the book. I don’t want to submit anything less than what I think is my best effort, and he doesn’t want me to, but that’s reveals the problem: I can’t tell when my manuscript represents my best effort. Obviously, my intuition hasn’t served me well or else I wouldn’t have sent him four iterations on a final draft.
It could be that I don’t know how to tell this particular story, yet. Maybe I need to stop thinking in terms of final drafts and just put the manuscript away for a while, come back to it later. Stephen King recommends six months. That’s a little long for me, but I appreciate the idea of gaining perspective. Not thinking about a story for a week or two can do wonders for seeing things from a different perspective.
It may also be my obsessive nature of not being able to quit messing with the words. I have promised my editor that once I submit what I think is a final draft, then I won’t change it anymore. The reason for this is obvious. My editor will be doing a line-by-line edit, which means that he works at the word and sentence and paragraph level, and it will take him weeks to do a whole manuscript. When he makes a correction, or rearranges a sentence or paragraph, or repairs either bad grammar or poor sentences, then he expects that what he’s done is pretty much it.
I have the right to review it and either accept what he’s done or suggest something different, but it’s bad manners to waste his time. For him to work on a paragraph to make it sound really good, and then for me to want to delete it, is going to irritate him and rightly so. With regard to this particular story, I’ve been lucky that he was preoccupied with other things and had not started on my manuscript. I had the opportunity to rework it before he was ready to begin his editing process.
This is one of the cardinal rules of working with an editor: the writer has to accept that he has to, at some point, quit writing.
I’ve always been an ardent reader of Sherlock Holmes stories and it’s all because of the London fog. Growing up on the flat plains of the Texas Panhandle, there were few occurrences of fog, although we did have occasional dreary, cloudy, rain-sodden days. After soaking up some of the London climate through the mysteries, what I yearned for was the exceedingly damp, dark and always foreboding fog that Holmes and Watson had to plunge into when hot on the trail of deadly criminals.
That may be why I find Fall in New Mexico to be such a terrible time to write. I have in my mind that real writing, especially of mysteries, is best done while sitting deep in a tall-backed, overstuffed, winged armchair in a darkened room next to a roaring fire while a howling storm of rain and snow is battering the windows. In the Holmes tradition, the densest fog makes for the finest crimes.
So here I am, ready to batten down the hatches against the outside world and focus my words on describing the darkest faces of humanity, and it is a gloriously sunny day outside. We’re having wonderfully mild, warm, dry, windless, bright days of unending sun, while the mountainsides are covered with the colors of autumn. We’re past the height of the aspen yellows, but even the remnants are still painting the countryside with blankets of colors. No one in his right mind would want to squander a day like this by being inside.
Thus am I stymied in my creativity. It will soon be November, my mind is prepped for winter and all I get is short sleeves and summer. I’ve begun a new story that starts with the pain and depression of patients in a tuberculosis sanatorium and I just can’t get it to sound right. The warm sunshine coming through my window wants them to go outside and play volleyball or something.
Perhaps my time is best spent reading.
I was in London a couple of years ago, by the way. It rained a couple of times but I never got the fog that I wanted. My only victory for literature was finding magnificent growths of wisteria (one of the Holmes stories was located at Wisteria Lodge). I guess I’ll have to go back when the weather is worse, which is something that only a writer would want to do.
I finished a final draft of a major (meaning 70,000 words or so, which is major for me) adult novel in April. This was the first adult novel that I’d done since finishing the Mogi Franklin Mystery series. I sent the manuscript to the publishing house that publishes the Mogi books to see if they would accept it for publication. Publishing an adult novel is wholly different from publishing middle-reader books, so it wasn’t automatic that they would be interested. They had to decide if it was a good book, if it fit their publishing house guidelines, and if they would expect it to sell.
They said yes and I started work with the senior editor. After he had read the manuscript, we met in July for a couple of hours. He had a list of comments, 90% of which I took to heart (I don’t remember the remaining 10%). After making several significant changes to the story, I resubmitted the manuscript in August. We exchanged emails in September discussing several specific aspects of the story, one of which was the need for clearly identifying the message of the book and how to present it to the reader.
Message? I needed a message?
Well, yeah, okay, what he was asking for was what I wanted the reader to be thinking about when they finished the book and, hopefully, afterwards. Why had I written the book? What did I want the reader to be left with? What was the bottom line? If it was the kind of story that expected to teach something, then what was the reader supposed to have learned?
Not having thought of it before, I realized that I did have something to say; I just hadn’t viewed the book from that perspective.
I don’t believe all books have to have a message or a theme or an underlying motif (I learned that word in high school; my English teacher would be proud). However, most good books do have a basic message or theme, even the big action/thriller types, and all good literature does. It can be as simple as “doing good is right”, or could be a morality play (religious belief, compassion, love,…), or be about personal conviction (courage, honesty, integrity,…), or societal (family, community, mutual support,…), or as complicated as a recurring image (the One Ring to Rule Them All). When a message or theme, or even a character strongly resonates with the reader, it can be a remarkable moment that lasts a long time (why does everyone know who Holden Caufield is?).
Most readers want either a message or foundational moral or some sort of personal part displayed by the hero or heroine that gives us encouragement or hope. They want a reason to remember the book and a reason for why they might recommend it to a friend – it makes it a better read, it gives more meaning to the story as they’re reading it, and makes the culmination of the story more satisfying.
My first step, according to my editor, was to make sure that the ending of the book clearly repeated the message that I had written about throughout the whole book. Therein was a problem: I had a story that I had made up as I went along and I hadn’t worried about significant themes or underlying meanings. Also, I had an ending that sucked. I mean, it was adequate, but even I was left unsatisfied. It certainly didn’t end with any meanings conveyed by the book, and maybe that’s why the ending sucked.
Now having realized that I actually did have a message and needed to be upfront about it, I wrote four different versions of the ending, each of them emphasizing, summarizing, or clearly articulating what I thought the book was about. It was a pretty interesting exercise. It took some soul-searching to understand what my story was about and took several changes across the book to make the message consistent within the story; I wanted it to be mindful but not interfering with the action or plot.
I finally wrote an ending that was naturally integrated in the whole story and made everything come together in the end. Even I was impressed. I sent my editor an updated manuscript a couple of weeks ago. He’s working his way through it and I’m waiting to see if I’ve been able to articulate the meaning with the strength that it needs.
I’ll keep you updated.
By the way, the book is already listed on Amazon. It will not be available until April 1, 2019, but it has a cover and a description. I didn’t write the description, by the way; my publisher did. Its name is The King of Trash, a novel by Don Willerton. Look it up.
I own a Ford F150 pickup that has around 160,000 miles on it. I’m thinking seriously about buying a newer one with less miles, so, having never looked at them before, I’ve been surfing through one of those cars-and-trucks-for-sale websites. I am amazed. It lists around a thousand pickups all over the United States. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to buy a pickup over the internet since I think any vehicle that I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on deserves to be driven first, duh, but it really was fun going through all the advertisements.
In fact, it was addictive. Last night, I looked at fifty detailed descriptions of pickups while viewing every one of the 1,089 listings. Today, similar ads are popping-up on my screen while I’m reading mail, looking at Facebook, or checking the news. I resent being flooded by ads, but, on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if anything new has been posted.
I’ve been sucked into an electronic monster.
Besides getting a feeling for the prices of various years and models of pickups, the affect of mileage, and imagining how difficult it would be to buy a pickup that is physically in Maine while I’m sitting in New Mexico, it felt like real power to see all the for-sale things on my screen and think that, with only an email, I could start a bargaining process that was nation-wide.
How many parents are watching their kids spend hours every day looking at YouTube videos, exchanging email, texting, or posting pictures on Instagram. I heard of one girl who routinely takes two hundred selfies every night before selecting the one that’s just right to post to all her friends that evening. She’s not only in a competitive atmosphere for selfies, but is in real combat.
I like my phone and I like email and I like discovering information with my computer. I am getting a little tired of Facebook, but I’m delighted to watch some of the videos on YouTube. What an amazing environment!
But it’s not all I do. If I am addicted to anything, it’s ordering books from Amazon. I could do a lot worse, but I try to read a book a week. Most of them are nonfiction like writing advice or history or biography, but I also enjoy a good Clive Cussler or a Baldacci.
I wish it were so with younger generations.
This is from Common Sense Media’s “Children, Teens, and Reading” 2014 research brief:
- 53 percent of nine-year-olds versus 17 percent of seventeen-year-olds are daily readers
- The proportion of children who “never” or “hardly ever” read tripled from 1984 to 2014. A third of thirteen-year-olds and 45 percent of seventeen-year-olds say they’ve read for pleasure one or two times a year, if that.
Believe it or not, this isn’t just books. It includes ANY vehicle of words, like magazine, newspapers, or comic books. One report observed that a college student will typically read two hundred to six hundred pages every week. Any student who is used to reading only phone texts and tweets may be in big trouble.
Let me state up front that I’m not blaming social media as the only culprit in soaking up young people’s eyes nor am I blaming only the young for not reading; I see a lot of adults who are just as absorbed in their cell phones as any teenager. The lure of video games and take-them-with-you-anywhere-on-every-device-you-own videos and movies are also strong.
Okay, so I don’t want to rant; I want to recommend a book.
How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure, by Kaye Newton
If you are a parent concerned that your kids are not interested in reading, or not reading enough, get this book. It identifies the problems (using her family as examples), it cites several studies for why kids need to be reading on a regular basis, and has a lot of down-to-earth recommendations for getting your kids unplugged from electronic screens and more plugged into books.
Everyone will benefit.
I’m always looking for good how-to-write books.
While convalescing at home from a sickness this summer, I edited and rewrote a manuscript that I finished in March. After writing a middle-grade mystery/adventure series, writing a new story involving adult-themed murder and intrigue embedded in the societal issues of ocean trash and homelessness (no kidding) was certainly different. I wrote it in first person, meaning that the story is told from the perspective of the main character, which was a good trick since I normally write in the third person narrator.
After I finished my latest draft and sent it to my publisher (he and I had already reviewed one draft), I bought a writing book from Amazon, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass. Mr. Maass is a veteran literary agent, author, and workshop presenter. He’s probably read a million books in his lifetime and has a firm grip on what he expects a successful and meaningful book to contain.
This is the first how-to-write book that caused me to immediately stop reading, go to my computer, and change a finished manuscript. I then returned to reading the book, went through a few pages more, stopped, went to my computer and made more changes to my manuscript. I finally used a notebook to record the changes I wanted to make instead of interrupting my reading to do them. By the end of the night, I sent a note to my editor telling him to stop reading the manuscript I had sent him because everything was different. It took a week to complete a new draft of the manuscript to replace the previous one. I made forty-two changes (some of them fundamental and extensive) and every change made it better.
I am wildly enthusiastic about Mr. Maass’s book. I’m not sure it’s for beginning writers; it takes a little seasoning to really appreciate it. On the other hand, I recommend it as a “must read” for writers, whenever they can get to it.
Here are a couple of quotes that will give you an idea of the style that Mr. Maass uses:
“The spirit that you bring to your writing desk either infects your pages or enlivens them. Your story events either oppress or excite. Your characters either inspire or leave us indifferent. The difference comes not from your story choices but from you. How you feel inside is how we will feel in reading.”
“In some ways the most important work you do in writing your novel is the work you do on yourself. Everyone knows how difficult writing can be. We’ve all read the blog posts about writer’s block, despair, envy, conflicting roles, crashes, recovery, and ways to stay inspired. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is your fundamental outlook, your positive spirit, your embrace of goodness, your faith in humanity. It shows in your generosity, not in supporting your writing friends, but in granting strength to your characters and filling their hearts with expectation.
Some people may read fiction to be frightened, but they never read it to be brought down. They may wish to be challenged, but they don’t want to be crushed. They may read for amusement, but they still have heart. They do seek an emotional experience, as I’ve said, but they also want to come away feeling positive.”
If you are a writer or want to be one, this book is worth reading. I strongly believe it will make you better at telling your story.
I had the special and rare opportunity to have a monthly lunch with a friend for over two years.
It was always on the first Friday of each month. I would pick him up at his house, we would both attend a writers’ discussion group at a local community building, and then we would go to the Sage Restaurant in Albuquerque, a Chinese affair only two blocks from the building in which our group met. He would consistently try something different, while I always ordered Chicken Egg Foo Yung. I love the stuff.
For both of us, though we enjoyed the writers’ group, it was the lunch that we came for and the joy that often resulted from it.
It is a precious thing to have a friend in whom you delight and can talk with at length about anything. Mostly we talked about writing – inspiration, perception, fascination with words and stories, how to improve, how to change, how to be a better writer and a better person – but we also talked about dreams and futures and the pursuit of happiness.
My friend died last Tuesday and our lunches have come to an end.
I am sorrowful and I grieve for him, but I grieve for me that something precious has slipped through my hands and I am not likely to find another companion like him. He was a unique and special person and so am I, giving us an affinity for being easy, laid back, and yet well-spoken and direct. For my part, I was a good listener when he had sage advice and an almost always original perspective on particular subjects, and for his part, he always appreciated the tidbits of information that I would have found on the web, from my latest readings, or from the dark reaches of my mind.
He was a famous person and there have already been articles and letters extolling him as a world figure with a reach that touched thousands of people, but my memories will be of those special times when we shared meals and became family.
We truthfully enjoyed each other and I miss him already.
One note: for the two blogs in which I mentioned Ursula K. Le Guin, I never once spelled her name correctly. I apologize. With that apology, I also want to say that I have begun reading her book The Wave in the Mind and I am enthralled with her writing style, her straight forward talk, and her perception of the truth. She must have been a fascinating person.
One last note: I have not written my blog lately. I have found it hard to write while having physical pain; it’s hard to concentrate and very hard to be authentic without whining. I am doing better these days and hope to now write on a regular basis.
I’m not a great writer and it’s not likely that I will ever be one.
Okay, getting over that, I’m also not a great speaker and it’s not likely that I will ever be one.
I’ve had my rare great moments in both writing and speaking where I’ve written or spoken something uniquely insightful and powerful. In those instances, I wrote or spoke better than what I (and my audience) expected and we were all enthralled (and surprised). People actually quoted me afterwards, and I was proud and ecstatic.
For the most part, however, I’m usually crossing the finish line with a rousing “good enough, and sometimes better than good” rating for writing and speaking.
I do want to be better. I’d like to write something that’s particularly well-written and memorable, and I would like to say something where people treasure the words. In general, I want to be an effective and appreciated communicator.
In my last blog, I quoted Ursula Guin with excerpts that described words as powerful. Her point concerned good conversations being powerful and special, but it extends to writing as well. She was a brilliant writer and was internationally recognized for her stories, book, poems, essays, and criticisms. And speeches, as well.
Oh, to be able to write and speak like that!
Okay, so having decided to be a better writer and a better speaker (and a better conversationalist as a result), here’s what I think I need to do: conscious practice.
I want to be a writer? Write; write a lot. I want to be a speaker? Speak; have great conversations when I can. But as I am doing both, I need to be constantly reading what I write: paying attention to vocabulary, grammar, clarity, pace, and sentence structure; is what I just wrote really understandable and does it, at the same, evoke the emotion that I want? I need to be constantly listening to myself as I talk to people, or formally give a speech: am I saying things correctly, succinctly, using words that my audience uses, in a way that they hear what I want them to hear, and have I made them care about what I’m saying?
I need to be as conscious of me as my readers or listeners are conscious of me.
Tony Hillerman said that you have to write a million words before you’re ready to write your own stories. That’s why he suggested everyone should write for a newspaper, with guidelines, schedules, word counts, column lengths, and instant review. It forces you not just to write, but to be extremely conscious of what you’re writing and how you’re writing it. And it forces you to write a lot.
I had a friend who was a minister and also a member of Toastmasters, the organization that revers speaking as a craft. I asked him why he did both; seems like he’d get tired of talking. His reaction was the opposite: Toastmasters was a wonderful way to speech, get feedback on his speaking, and to improve. Speaking from a pulpit, he said, is always a once-sided activity. He might get compliments or criticisms, but they were typically with regard to the content; comments were marginal when it came to helping him speak better.
My current focus is to be precise. I would be happy to naturally produce top-notch colorful and entertaining prose, but if I can develop my writing enough to say something simply in a straightforward manner and be correct with the words that I use so that my readers see in their minds what I see in my mind, that’s a pretty good accomplishment. On that foundation, I can develop a richer vocabulary, better sentence structure, more crafty ways to say things, and create a more powerful delivery.
My book editor stopped over at my house this morning and something powerful happened.
We had a real conversation – him saying something, me listening, thinking about it, and then saying something back to him. He then listened, thought about it, and said something back. Pretty soon, I understood the points of what he was saying, and he understood the points of what I was saying. Between the two of us, we spent a delightful hour identifying possible changes to a new story that I’m working on, changes that will vastly improve the eventual book.
Pretty simple, right?
It makes you wonder why more people don’t do it.
Here’s a series of quotes from The Wave in the Mind, a book by Ursala Le Guin:
“When you speak a word to a listener, the speaking is an act. And it is a mutual act. The listener enables the speaker’s speaking. It is a shared event, intersubjective: the listener and speaker entrain with each other.”
“…Mutual communication between speakers and listeners is a powerful act. The power of each speaker is amplified, augmented, by the entrainment of the listener. The strength of a community is amplified, augmented by its mutual entrainment for speech.”
“…That is why utterance is magic. Words do have power. Names have power. Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearers. They feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”
We underappreciate good conversation and we are poorer for it. Social media, in particular, has denigrated the idea that people need to talk back and forth to find real understanding. Instead, many response streams to any comment looks like unknown voices shouting into space, each voice playing one-upmanship to dominate the last voice, each voice making statements as if they had more authority.
The next time you see someone pontificating on Facebook, think about how easy it is for a speaker to believe (truly believe) that they are saying something worth hearing just as a result from not being required to actually talk to anyone.
If “Mutual communication between speakers and listeners is a powerful act,” then we have surrendered ourselves to weakness.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.