Dec 28, 2017

Learning To Read Pt 3 (Improving Your Writing or The Devil of Detail)

How often do we think we know someone from their work? 

Have you ever read something and felt like the author just got you? That they had some intuitive look into your psyche? If your like me, it happens too many times to count. 

But the more I write the more I come to believe that the opposite is true. Maybe it's not the author that gives words magic, but the reader?


This series looks from a readers point of view about how to become a better writer. How I learned to read poetry taught me a lot about how I want to write. Check out Part 1, and Part 2.


One of the first things I did after I decided that poetry reading was something I wanted to do, was read aloud to myself. At my home, pacing back and forth, in my underwear as I read my favorite poems to the furniture.

Trying things out in different inflections. Different voices. It went from uncomfortable, to absurd, to terrible, to ok, to horrible, to ok, and the more I tried to read like somebody else the less sense it all made.

So then I tried not trying. 

And the more I let go of what I thought the reading should sound like, the more I could relax, slow things down, and read clearly. Suddenly my readings became better.

The less character I put into it, the more my voice emerged into the piece. And when I could hear my voice in the words, the poems became more meaningful.

That struck me. And it's a simple idea.

What I got out of it, was not the words as written, but the meaning I put in as a reader. Without a reader. All writing is dead. Without a reader, the writer is sending thoughts to a great abyss of meaninglessness. A writer is only half an equation - if even that. 

It is Readers who birth these still thoughts to life. 

Sometimes even incomplete thoughts become lush and full. 

I thought, out of all my favorite books how many details were missing that I filled in as a reader. How much of the scenery, costumes, emotion did I put in. I mean there are some writers who are heavily detailed, but even they can't put in every color, every sound, every smell, every taste, every thought and breath. And why would they want to?

This isn't an excuse to be lazy as a writer. It's a fundamental understanding that everything written, every word, is in service to this great mysterious reader and their benevolent imagination.

Writing then becomes about the quality of the details and skill. Not just the abundance of technique. Any written world will always be incomplete, but the right details in the right place will feed the imagination of the reader. 

Give just enough to orientate a reader into your world, but not too much where the piece becomes a dictation of a photograph.

Read a piece, see what details stick out and why that works? Imagine what details you would give instead. Or best, try to write a poem with as few details as possible and see what emerges.

every one
in every room tonight
over books and screens over
thin scraps of paper waiting lonely
for release dying to see a person
in the piece but they ain't
in the thing

collecting fragments
we're only buying dreams of dreams
whose words dried-dead

to you now
say it now. say
and I'll echo you
but I ain't in
the thing

every one 
in it together
in every room tonight
looking lonely for answers
in cracked-mirrors
but it ain't in 

                           the thing 

much love


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