Thursday, February 28, 2013

Practical and Impractical

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I just want to thank you for your patience.  The last two weeks have been long, and I was not productive--unless you call healing productive, which I guess is something.

Anyway, in the midst of my un-productivity, I watched a lot of shows, read a book or so, and came to a conclusion about something that I've been mulling over:  what hooks you on a book.

Now, I'm going to stop and say in no uncertain terms something that will seem completely sacrilegious to anyone who's been reading about writing in the last 50 years.


Not the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, or the first fifty pages.

Instead, I'm going to talk about something that seems to me much more fundamental.  And that is, for a book or story of any sort to really succeed, there must come a point in which the reader must know how it ends and puts it down only under duress.

 For me, at least, I am willing to give a book a little time to grow on me, and I think that most readers are the same.  The amount of time we give varies by reader.  I think most editors, possibly by virtue of the sheer number of submissions they get, put manuscripts and books down rather quickly.  Those who don't sincerely love books probably put them back after the first few pages (possibly less) unless they are hooked. Even those who adore books only persist so long.  I often give books 25-50 pages, noting last week that I didn't really get into the most recent book of one of my favorite authors until page 52.  But then something strange happened.  Somewhere around page 130, I couldn't put that book down.  When I did put it down, I was annoyed at whoever had come between my book and me. I just had to finish that book.  And I realized that that's how most of the books I read are.  To be honest, I have quit reading many books in the middle because they fail to pick up speed.  If I do finish, it's because the book starts to bolt forward.

And so, I'd like us just to think about why this is.  Do you have the same experience, or is it just me?  What would help us achieve this drive?  Should we start at the end?  Should we severely edit the end of the book in order to improve the rhythm?  I'm not really sure.

This week's assignment, then, will explore this concept.  I have two potential ideas:
  1. Write a story about your life beginning at the end and moving forwards (in other words, write your last sentence first and slowly build forward).
  2. Write a story about reading a book that was truly important to you.  Instead of writing an essay, write a story.  Don't tell me what the book's about, tell me about how you got hooked.  Tell me about why you kept reading.  Tell me why you read it a second or third time.
 Can't wait to see what we find out!   

1 comment:

  1. Not the appropriate place for this comment, I know, but I cannot find an email address on this site where I can send a private message...
    Just read an article about Life Writing in InPlum magazine, I would love to join the group in person - but alas, I work full time and that includes Friday mornings. can I join the discussion, at least electronically? I have my own blog,, devoted to a current topic, but would like to share more and become a better writer. Would love some feedback, Elizabeth-Anne, contact me at if you are so moved...thanks!


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