WAW: How To Read For Someone

Writing About Writing: A once-a-week post about some aspect of writing. I’m not an expert; I’m just some guy. Take it with a grain of salt.


Not too long ago, I encouraged everyone to read for each other. But today I want to talk about how to read for each other.

Three Steps

This is going to be a simple version. I’m talking about my general ideology, not specifics.

For me, there are three big steps: Bad, Good, Homework.

The Bad

My first job is to find what’s wrong. Plain and simple. If you aren’t finding what’s wrong, you’re doing the person a disservice. If you aren’t vigilant, if you aren’t catching those typos and extra commas and poorly worded phrases, you aren’t helping anyone. Find the problems. Call them out.

The Good

But you aren’t only looking for problems. While you’re diligently hunting commas, also hunt for gems. Find what’s good in the work and note that just as vigilantly as you noted any errors.

Homework

This is the important part.

You have some bad. You have some good. My philosophy, at this point, is to make them work together.

None of us are perfect writers. None of us aren’t still learning and working. But if someone early on in the process had absolutely dumped on us, we may not have gotten to where we are now. I never want to do that to someone. I feel that part of my job, when I read for someone, is to tell them what they’re good at, what their strengths are, what they absolutely must NOT delete or edit.

Their Strengths Will Fix Their Errors

Something I try to do every time, and something I really believe can empower a writer, is telling them how their strengths can help them address their errors.

So let’s say that someone writes amazing dialogue, but their characters are boring and flat. I may then say:

Your characters fell flat for me. I just didn’t feel much dimension to them. But your dialogue was amazing. It was so natural I swore I was just listening to my friends talking naturally. I think you could develop your characters through your dialogue to give them more dimension and make them feel more real.

Everything will always, of course, depend on the specifics of the piece and person and situation. But the important part is to:

  1. Tell them what needs fixing
  2. Tell them what doesn’t need fixing
  3. Suggest how what works can fix what’s broken

I really believe this approach can make writers feel empowered and energized rather than deflated and hopeless. I’d never want my read to make someone feel like they should abandon their writing. But I do want them to walk away thinking, “I’ve got this. I know what’s wrong and what I’m good at and I’m gonna crush this project.”

Resources:

None! Go read for someone and see what you can do to make them feel awesome about their own writing.

Monday Story: The Tree at the End of the World

“I see you,” she said to the tree.

“And? What of it?” the tree replied.

“I see what you’re trying to do.”

The halo of leaves on the tree’s branches rustled. “The end does not need to be a surprise. There was never a promise that oblivion would be a shock.”

“It’s the art of the thing,” she said. “The principle of the thing.”

The tree shrugged its leaves again. “I’m a tree. I don’t really care about human art and principles.”

“Well, I suppose there is something to that.”

Week in Review: 2.20-2.24

This is a weekly review post. It is mostly beneficial to myself, but public self-shaming works, so here it is!

This week I:

  • Wrote a mostly usable outline for a short story
  • Completed all my scheduled blog posts

Next week, I’d like to:

  • Write part of the actual story. I got the outline done early in the week and then patted myself on the back and didn’t do any work beyond that. No good
  • Read a lot more than I was able to this week – finish the book I’m reading by the end of February
  • Keep up on my blog posts

Read This: Disagreement

I’m kind of cheating this week. This was inspired by a conversation I had today with a couple activists. We were discussing why people are ignorant or uninformed and how they came to be that way.

Something we realized was that all humans – regardless of their opinion on anything or anyone – select information that is convenient to read. They read things that feel good and confirm things they already believe. I do it; you do it. Everyone does it.

So, my Read This for this week is a challenge: Go read something you disagree with. Anything. Read about the benefits of being a vegetarian. Read about the glories of hunting. Read about why we should burn more coal. Read about why capitalism should be destroyed. Go find something difficult and challenging and read it. Listen to it. Don’t respond. Just listen for a minute.

For an extra challenge, try to find some merit in it, any merit. I’m a vegetarian, but do think that hunting is generally more humane than a lot of the other ways we interact with animals.

Go forth and challenge yourself!

WAW: Progressive Outlines

Writing About Writing: A once-a-week post about some aspect of writing. I’m not an expert; I’m just some guy. Take it with a grain of salt.


I was working on an outline this morning and wanted to share my method. Some may find it helpful.

For the sake of having an easy example, I’m going to outline “The Three Little Pigs” using this method.

Step One: Broad Outline

I start with a super broad outline. This is literally just bullet points with ideas. At this stage, I throw out ideas without worrying about whether or not I’ll keep those ideas to the end. This part of the outline will also include things about style or tone that aren’t purely plot points.

Example

  • Pigs live in houses
  • Wolf comes around and bothers them in some way
  • One pig is smart enough to survive it
  • Maybe the wolf dies at the end
  • Tone: Fairy tale

Step Two: More Specific

Now it’s time to get more specific. I will again throw around ideas that may or may not make it into the final draft, however. I’ll even sketch out multiple versions of the story.

Example

  • Version One
    • Pigs live in a tower
    • The wolf makes his way up each floor of the tower
    • He eats the pigs on floor 1 and 2
    • On floor 3, he encounters a smart pig who defeats him
    • The pigs eat the wolf
  • Version Two
    • Pigs live in three separate houses
    • Each house is progressively more sturdy
    • The wolf blows down house one and two
    • At house three, the wolf finds he can’t ruin the house
    • He tries to talk his way into the house, but the pigs are too smart
    • They live and the wolf starves waiting outside their house
  • Version Three
    • etc…

Step Three: Detailed Outline

Finally I have an outline I can run with. Usually during step two it becomes really obvious which version of the story is going to work. Once I have that, I can go into a detailed outline.

Note 1: I like to get SUPER detailed, but that’s not everyone’s jam. Go for as much detail as you like. I like to know exactly where I’m going, but other people enjoy having a more open outline that doesn’t lock them in to any decisions.

Note 2: If I’m writing a short story, a few bullet points are enough for even the “detailed” outline. But if I’m doing a novella or novel, I will do a detailed outline like this one for every chapter and scene.

Example

  • The pig in house one is making breakfast. He hears a knock on his door and sees that it’s a wolf.
  • He refuses to open his door so the wolf forces his way in by blowing down the flimsy house made of straw.
  • The pig flees just in time and gets to house two.
  • At house two…
  • etc…

Resources:

Monday Story: I Forgot!

I totally forgot about this because of not having work on a weekday. Here’s a super quick story to technically keep me on schedule.


I forgot to tie my shoes. I forgot to walk the dog. I forgot to lock the door.

I started writing everything down. At first on paper, then on my body. It was the only thing I couldn’t forget.