I am an experienced new writer. What I mean by that is that I have started to write for fifteen years now. I’ve written poetry and started on upwards of 15 novels. Some of those novels were merely an idea that stuck in my head for a few weeks. Maybe I Googled some information for it or drew a map of a fictional land. Some ideas even had characters developed, outlines written.
But no matter what, if I have tried to write in long-form, I hit a roadblock. I struggle to get beyond my insecurities and write what I know I can write. And as a result, I’ve bought several books hoping to breakthrough and create my masterpiece. Or at least a first draft.
A book that I recently found could be my ticket to creative absolution, though. “Several short sentences about writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg came onto my radar while looking at another book online. It’s one of those moments you remember in your life decades later as the start of something big. But I’m a romantic, so that may be a stretch.
I love the short sentence and paragraph structure (not unlike poetry), making it a lot easier to digest. I always hear and read from experienced writers, novels deep into their work. I don’t hear as often from people in my position because we don’t have the same platform, which is incredible for them. I love when other people succeed, and that’s the only reason any of us have favorite authors.
However, I prefer a more “in-the-trenches” viewpoint. Writing doesn’t necessarily get more comfortable, but becoming a success, even marginally, does change the formula.
So, I wanted to share what these lines from Klinkenborg’s book sparked in me. I’ll most likely do this as long as I find lines in the book that provoke something in me, and hopefully in you.
These are the book’s first lines, and I can’t think of a more important lesson to lay your groundwork on. As a writer, we have one goal: to get people to want to read our work. The only way to accomplish that goal is to know our writing in-depth, intimately, and communicate it to the reader.
And the depth is usually not the problem. If you are compelled to write, you are most likely a thinker and come at issues from multiple angles. We don’t struggle with knowing what we’re implying. If anything, we sometimes get too nuanced and aren’t straightforward enough.
We also typically do well with what the sentence doesn’t say. If it’s not in the words themselves, and after we’ve poked a million “devil’s advocate”-sized holes, we know what the sentence isn’t conveying.
But that first point, what the sentence actually says, is the booby trap for two reasons. First, we can tie ourselves in knots trying to make sure we choose precisely the right words. Trying to cover our bases with what the sentence implies can have us checking our thesaurus, trying to find that perfect extension of our thoughts.
We eventually settle on a sentence that says what we both intend to and omit what we don’t want. Now we introduce the variable, our audience. And this is where it can fall apart.
No matter how well we know our audience, everyone sees and experiences things differently. They come with their own stories, their own experiences, and we try to speak to that positively.
That being said, whatever we may try to imply or omit in our writing, all the reader sees is what’s on the paper. We have to know what each sentence actually says because if we don’t, our audience will make their own assumptions, and those assumptions could go against our intentions.
There is no “correct” way to consume art, but if your audience interprets your writing in a way you hadn’t intended, there was a disconnect. You run the risk of alienating the very people you try to reach and losing your audience along the way.
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I never know how to wrap up these types of things, but I’d love to connect! Leave a comment with your interpretation of the piece, or give me a shout on Twitter @williamlacuna. Thank you for giving me your time!