THE READER IN YOU

Whether or not you fully accept Jakins’ rationale it explains why we want to be published writers. A successful writer has something better than money or fame.  He or she has an audience who listens to what the writer has to say.  Imagine how encouraging that must be. Thousands of people paying to read what you write, and liking you for it.       

           

Believe it or not, you have this…already. Oh, its not thousands of readers.  It’s one reader, more important than any of these.  In addition to having a writer in you, there’s a reader in you.  Powerful because this is the first reader of what you write.  For most people it isn’t a matter of whether they can be good writers.  I think you see how the six principles we have been working with are well within anyone’s grasp.  It’s a question of how good a reader you are of your own work.  And how are you a good reader of your own work?  The same way you’re a good listener to others. 

           

1. Be attentive–for a writer this means listening with appreciation to whatever comes and devoting time and energy to your talent, much as you have done by working through this book.

           

2. Show genuine interest–this is finding the real subject, something we may be less sure of, but care about, a lot.

           

3. Ask questions–flesh out the details, not because it’s a rule in a writing book, but because you want to create the world of your piece with exactness.

           

4. Allow time–How much should you write every day?  If you value your relationship with a spouse you don’t relegate the quality time you spend together to 11PM, Thursday night.  Don’t do that with writing.  You’re a writer, give it priority.  There will always be dishes to do, grass to be mowed, shopping to be done whether or not you get your writing done, first.

           

5. Don’t interrupt–And, once the creative flow begins go with it.  Let it carry you away…deep into the night, deep into other worlds, deep into yourself.  You’ll be the better for it.  A better husband or wife, a better employer or employee, a better mother or father, a better writer and a better human being.

           

6. Be non-judgmental–We have talked about the writer/editor relationship.  Here it is in a nutshell.  There’s a time for judgment, but it’s not when you’re writing.  There’s a voice in each of us.  Poet Donald Hall says it speaks to most of us only in dream, and only in unremembered dream. It doesn’t write poetry or even passable grammar, but it rushes forth the words of excited recognition, which supplies what we call inspiration.  He claims there are two characteristics of this voice: it’s always original and we feel passive to it.  We’re surprised by it, and we may very well, having uttered its words, not know what we mean.  Hall writes:

 

There is the deliberate farming of daydream.  There is a way in which you can daydream quite loosely, but also observe yourself.  You watch the strange associations, the movements.  These associations are frequently trying to tell us something.  The association is always there for some reason. Listen.  When you hum a tune, remember the words that go with the tune and you will usually hear some part of your mind commenting on another part of your mind, or on some recent action.

           

There is something I want to call “peripheral vision,” and I don’t mean anything optical.  If you talk about a dream with an analyst, and there is an old battered table in the dream that you casually mention, he may well say, “What about this table?  What did it look like?”  Often these little details are so important.  When I am listening to something passively speaking out of me, I don’t attempt to choose what is most important, I try to listen to all of it.  I never know what is going to be the most important message until I have lived with it for a while.  Very frequently, the real subject matter is something only glimpsed, as it were, out of the corner of the eye.  Often the association which at first glance appears crazy and irrelevant, ultimately leads to the understanding, and tells what we did not know before.  I don’t know how to stimulate “peripheral vision.”  One can train the mind to observe the periphery rather than to ignore it.  Remember: if you are thinking about something, and you have one really crazy, totally irrelevant, nutty, useless, unimaginable silly association, listen hard; it’s the whole point, almost without a doubt.

 

Writing clears the passageway to the insides of ourselves, allows this voice to speak through us and, as Hall says, is the ultimate goal to which men and women must address themselves.  It is what to live for.  It is what to live by. 

           

7. Go from easier to harder subjects–It really doesn’t matter where you begin, the subject will find an outlet.  So start with what is most immediate, most fun, or for no reason at all just catches your fancy.

           

8. Role play–Acknowledge that writing is an artificial mechanism but using characters to portray what we feel gives us the license to confront and exploit things we cannot address directly in real life.      

Remember the words of Tom in The Glass Menagerie: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve.  But I am the opposite of a stage magician.  He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth.  I give you truth that has the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

           

9. Empathize–Audience involvement keeps us honest.  When we write we empathize with the people we portray, and give our audience the opportunity to do the same.  By involving an audience we see things, including ourselves, through their perspective, and they in turn discover themselves through us. I don’t think there could be a more human process.

           

10. Be patient–As we grow older we can learn to listen better to the writer in us.  What happens when you’re talking and someone doesn’t listen?  Eventually you stop talking.  The same happens with our writing.  If the reader-in-you is overly critical, doesn’t give you time or attention, particularly when you’re trying to find a ways of expressing how you feel…, then the writing will stop.  Keep the channels open.  Stay ready.  The voice will come when it chooses to come.  Be ready for it and listen to it–that is what it means to be a successful writer.

           

Share your successes.  Ironically we are, both the child lost in the shopping mart and the stranger who helps that child.  Let your emotions find expression.  This is what you need, this is what others are looking for in your work.  They want someone to unclog their information, unblock their feelings.  Do it for yourself, do it for them.  Then both of you can move on, renewed, leaving the fear, pain, confusion, and distress behind.  No one can give or receive more. 

This marks the last post in this series, but please continue to check in. Next we will run an exciting analysis of the writing process called “The Writer’s Cave.”

 

 

 

 

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LISTEN TO YOURSELF

There are three stages to a man's life. 1) He believes in Santa Clause. 2) He does not believe in Santa Clause. 3) He beocmes Santa Clause. Merry Christmas!
John Lehman: There are three stages to a man’s life. 1) He believes in Santa Clause. 2) He does not believe in Santa Clause. 3) He becomes Santa Clause. Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Principle #6: Both writer and reader seek the release of blocked emotions within the safety of the written page.  This is accompanied by a feeling of re-emergence and the seeing of things differently for ourselves.  LOVE THE RESULTS. 

Remember the myth of the private screening room.  Let’s say you’re there by yourself late one night.  Youre piece (from your storyboard) is just concluding…with one of those poignant freeze frames used by foreign movies in the fifties.  You sit tired, but pleased as the footlights come up.  From curtains on the side I walk out to the center of the stage, then to its edge.  I beckon you to come, take a seat in the front row for a few minutes.  “Let’s talk.  No lecture or writing or role playing exercises tonight.”  It’s just the two of us heart to heart.

 

Perhaps I tell you one last anecdote to put you at ease.  Something like this–After my separation I signed up for a free introductory massage at a health club I belonged to.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the person giving the massage was an attractive young woman.  I got up on her table and as she began working on my shoulders she said, “You know, you remind me of someone.”  I thought to myself: Wow, now I’m going to get some clue as to how the opposite sex views me.  She said, “But, I can’t think who it is.”  My mind was racing.  I thought to myself: It’s Bond, James Bond…I’m Sean Connery as James Bond.  She went on with the massage.  Ten minutes later as I was talking away about writing, she said, “I wish I could think of who it is you remind me of.”  Hemingway, I thought, Hemingway in his late forties.  I gave her my “Charlie, where the hell are ya!” Hemingway imitation.  But she didn’t bite.  Later as she was finishing up–and I was feeling pretty loose by then–she suddenly said, “I’ve got it, I know who you remind me of!”  Full of expectation I looked at this beautiful young twenty year old.  She said, “You remind me of…Santa Clause.”  Well, it’s not Christmas and I’m not Santa Clause, but I do have a big present for you with regard to success and how you see yourself, as a writer. 

 

Everywhere I go people are talking.  In stores, in movies, on planes, in lobbies, at meetings.  The trouble is, most of them aren’t listening.  And, to be listened to, is a human need we all have. We solve it in many different ways. We hire someone to listen to us–an attorney, psychotherapist, marriage counselor.  Professional salespeople know they are most likely to get an order if they can get the prospect to do the talking, and they do this by listening.  We hire employees to listen (a two-way mirror test showed that the prospect most likely to get a job was the one where the interviewer did most of the talking).  We run for offices in organizations, we teach, we even put on seminars to get people to listen to us.  We get married to have someone listen to us, even have children in the hopes that they will listen.  I have a friend who’s expecting his first child, they know it will be a boy.  He said to me, I can hardly wait, I have so much I want to tell my son.  I thought, I’ll let him discover the truth of that for himself.  And, kids need someone to listen.  I remember teaching adolescents.  There would be a parent-teacher conference and I’d say to the mother, “It sounds like Gary is interested in going on into electronics.”  She’d say, “What, he talks?  He hasn’t said one word in the last three years around the house.”  This is the boy I’m trying to shoo out of the class room at 6 at night so I can go home.  I used to think this was terrible until I had my own son, who as a teenager lived in the attic and came and went by night.

 

A psychologist in California thirty years ago had a rather intriguing idea.  He said, if it’s so important to have someone listen to us, why don’t we pair up and make a little compact:  You listen to me for a half hour and I’ll listen to you for a half hour.  That’s it.  No special degrees in psychology, high priced hourly bills, special offices.  You listen to me, I’ll listen to you.  Of course it does depend on some common sense listening skills.  He named seven or eight, and over the years these have made their way into industry and education.  What are they? 

 

A good listener is attentive, shows genuine interest in the speaker, asks questions.  Gives you their time, doesn’t say, “I can listen to you and sign these reports too.”  He or she doesn’t interrupt.  A good listener is non-judgmental. That’s hard for parents, not to jump in with, “When I was your age I’d have….”  It’s so easy to assume your child is asking for advice, when all that child wants is someone to hear them out. 

 

I know from interviewing people for employment, you can come on very strong, like, ‘Why should you get this position instead of the person who walked out of the door?”  Or you can begin with easier things, such as, “How did you become interested in this field or where did you go to school?”  A good listener empathizes and is patient…waiting in silence, not rushing the speaker.

           

Harvey Jakins, the California psychologist I mentioned earlier, developed a theory around this art of listening.  He said that we’re born with a wonderful intelligence that gives us the ability to come up with brand-new, accurate responses for each of hundreds of situations we face every day–none of which are exactly like previous things we’ve experienced.  We’re capable of taking in all the information of a situation, comparing it with information from past experiences, noting the similarities, noting the differences, and putting together a response that’s modified enough to fit the new situation well. 

           

Not that there aren’t occasional problems.  The ability to come up with fresh, new answers gets interrupted by stress, emotion, and pain.  Any kind of physical hurt or emotional hurt interrupts the process.  Under those situations, information coming in, which is ordinarily handled very easily, doesn’t get sorted out.  It congeals; it blocks; it becomes a record of distressed feelings and the shutting down of our thinking.  But, nature has provided us with a simple way of untangling this clogged information and discharging its accompanying feelings of stress.  All we have to do is relive the experience by talking it out.

           

He gives an example of a very young child separated from his mother while shopping.  The lost child becomes hysterical.  A stranger comes by and says, “Don’t cry, we’ll find your mother.”  But the next time that boy experiences a loss–a girl friend drops him or a close relative dies–the pain will revert back to that earlier bad experience.  When that child was lost, all the love and security in his world was suddenly gone, perhaps forever.  What better reason could anyone possibly have to cry? The crying, the letting out of those emotions, is a healthy thing.  The stranger unwittingly stops a very healing process.  Expressing our emotions helps heal our psyche–much as, say, bleeding helps clean a physical wound.  But the damage can be undone, if later the child is allowed to tearfully tell his experience to his mother or someone else who listens acceptingly.  And that can be done at any time, even many years later.