Close Reading and Note-Taking

Of course, at the end of my short break from writing, I risk running the possibility of getting sick for the first time in months.  I survived the entire winter without catching anything more than a cold, even dodging my yearly attack of pneumonia and the flu, just to have it all come tumbling down in the start of spring.  I suppose this highlights the need for me to find an apartment so I’m not stuck living with three other disease-spreaders, especially one who’s immune to everything but unwittingly carries it all.  I know it’s no one’s fault, but I felt like laying the blame at someone else’s feet; if they ever read this, they’d understand (they’re well aware of my deadpan humor).

While barely winning the battle against the urge to vomit, I’ve been reading On Writing by Stephen King (I tried to make that an Amazon referral link, but apparently residents from RI are unable to, and thus I cannot yet be called a sell-out).  I’m 70-something pages in and definitely enjoying the book so far.  I initially picked it up based on recommendations from other writers who cite the advice of King.  I’d have to go that far, as well, and suggest reading the book; it’s already helping my writing.

As I’ve been reading On Writing, I’ve been pasting sticky notes all over, filled with my terrible scrawl, along with arrows and diagrams that I’m sure I’ll hate deciphering when using them as reference.  I mention this because it’s one of the few tools I’ve picked up in the course of my quirky formal education (the details of which will surely fill another post).  Along with close reading, note-taking and referencing texts while reading has helped me develop my reading skills in addition to my writing skills, and I have a hard time even reading fiction in the way of old.

One of my earliest On Writing stickies is on page 57.  King is recalling one of the first pieces of advice he received in regards to his writing, after seeing an editor omit the “bad parts” of an article.  The editor, John Gould, says to King, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story . . . When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story” (On Writing, pg. 57).  This is the type of advice I need and the reason why I purchased the book.  I’ve always been really verbose in my writing (at least for school assignments, may they rot in hell and I never have to see them again), but mostly because I was ordered to write 1000 words or 20 pages or what have you.  I ended up filling page upon page with fluff, and I like to think of myself as being able to master saying nothing with quite a number of words.

That, however, is entirely the wrong way to write a book, and one of the many, maaaaaaany reasons I’m so opposed to formal education after a certain point (again, a subject for another post).

From all the research I’ve done about writing fiction, the vast majority of my reading states to keep things concise.  Publishers want a book that is cut to its barest; such is one of the reasons for the editing process.  Minimizing your wordcount while still getting your story out saves the publisher’s cost for printing and makes your novel more marketable.  It’s why you avoid making mistakes like, “The pretty female woman wore a raincoat over her dress to avoid getting it wet.”  King’s example in On Writing details the need to edit in journalism, and his editor removes many of the fluff words I know I’d use.  Recognizing my weakness and knowing I’ll need a reminder, I slammed a sticky note on page 57 and drew an arrow to Mr. Gould’s advice.

Once again I find myself veering across every subject known to God, but I assume any frequent readers of this blog will be getting quite used to my insanity by now.  Tomorrow, provided I’m not revisiting the taste of tonight’s dinner, I’ll be back to my Daily Writing Log and back to my novel.

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