Whenever someone asks me for advice on writing, I tell them to always Remember The Reader.
I think a lot of folks, when they’re first sitting down and trying to write, forget that reading and writing should be fun. They start thinking about things they’ve heard in their English classes about Joyce, Nabokov, and Pynchon. Or they forget what it was about books and stories that initially excited them, so they retreat into forms closer to television because those feel familiar and safe. But if the beginner stops and thinks a little about the reader, what the reader expects, what will take the reader out of the story, what will turn the reader off, then the writer will avoid plenty of headache once it is time to start revision.
Now, obviously, readers are different—some will want things a little more literary with subtle symbolism, others will crave wild tales of the supernatural! But if you have an ideal reader in mind, the rest will easily fall into place. I think most readers do not want to be confused. Sometimes a person just starting out with writing will have sentences that get out of hand so the poor reader isn’t sure what is happening. Remember, you won’t be there to explain your obscure and purple prose to everyone—so always aim for clarity.
Most readers also don’t want to feel talked down to. If you’re trying to add some depth to the events and actions of characters by forcing some type of metaphor, you have to pull back and let it stay beneath the surface. Readers are smart. They’ll pick up on all that stuff. This is why a lot of writers advise to just let those things come about organically (i.e. not doing it on purpose) because if you stop the story every other paragraph to point out how clever you are… well then you’re not that clever. And the reader will be annoyed. I also think most readers do not want to be bored. This is 2017. We can watch Rick and Morty on our phones now. Why should anyone pick up your book or short story? This is where I urge people just starting out to revisit the first pieces that really excited them. Was it the crazy action in that spy thriller? The lush language in that short story collection? There was something there that glued you to the page. Think about this. You were a reader before you were a writer. So remember the reader and think about what will keep your ideal reader also glued to the page.
I think all other advice about writing stems out of this generality--Remember The Reader. You want clean sentences to not confuse or bog down the reader. You want relatable and three-dimensional characters because that is who readers will want to spend time with. You want to keep the pacing tight so the reader won’t put you down to watch reality television.
If you remember your reader, you’re already onto a healthy start.
I didn't know that the fine folks at Turner Publishing were going to do this, but I found out yesterday that they place an amazing looking advertisement for Cities of Men in the current issue of Publishers Weekly. If anyone happens to have a hardcopy, please contact me about mailing it to me! There are no bookstores around where I live (how depressing is that for a writer to have to say?) soI can't really get my hands on a copy, but I'd love to have one. Let me know. Everyone at Turner has really taken a big chance with me, so I really don't want to disappoint them... In other words: you and everyone you know should buy a copy when it comes out. Available May 23!
The good news is that I got my pick-up, Rocinante, back on Friday. The bad news was that the engine light was still coming on, and the truck couldn’t really speed up or climb hills. The folks at the body shop said the whole deer incident didn’t have anything to do with this—just more old fashioned bad luck. I was happy to get my wheels back, but I was nervous about having to fix whatever was going on under the hood. After talking to some people, I figured it was either my ignition coil or my spark plugs; I was going to fix this myself instead of taking the truck in and spend even more money (March was an expensive month).
I borrowed a friend’s car and drove to a few auto parts stores and bought a new ignition coil, new spark plugs, and a few other things for my weekend adventure. Back at the house, I cranked up some Deep Purple and popped open a can of Lone Star and went to work. Now, I have a Ford F-150 and the more and more I work on this truck, the more I feel like Ford makes things a little weird just to make you want to just bring your vehicle into the dealership and let them deal with—but maybe I’m just annoyed at how inept I am auto repairs. Anyway, removing the plug wires was super easy, taking out the wiring harness was a little more difficult but I got it done. The rest was just removing the bolts that held the ignition coil in place. Should be super easy, right? Not so fast. The front bolt was a simple task. The two in the back? Different story. The ignition coil in my truck is far in the back, so those last remaining bolts were nearly impossible to reach. Trying to get a socket wrench in there was going to be the trial of the weekend. I fooled around to see if I could jerry-rig something, but it was no use. Ultimately, I had to make two trips to Auto Zone to get a new socket wrench with a swivel head (and another trip for an adapter) and I was back in business.
With some careful maneuvering, I was able to get into that crevice and remove the bolt and take off the whole ignition coil. Then came the problem of trying to install the new part and remembering where every little wire and plug went. Luckily, I expected this to happen so I had taken pictures of everything on my phone for reference. And actually, putting the new ignition coil only took several minutes. I wasn’t sure if it would work, of course, but at least I didn’t have extra nuts or bolts laying around in mystery. Before I decided to jump start another adventure with spark plugs, I figured I should see how well the truck handled with her new coil. I put the key in the ignition, crossed my fingers, and started the engine.
The engine purred, and no “Check Engine” light flashed at me. I backed out of the driveway and motored around town just to be sure, and it was as if there had never been a problem.
So I’m happy to report not only do I have my pick-up back, but I now can successfully replace an ignition coil. Not bad work for old Bad Luck Bill.
Writer living in the hill country of Texas