A couple of weeks ago we had a major southern storm that left us powerless for four days. During daylight hours we spent a lot of time at the library, but at night we passed the time reading aloud by candlelight from the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This little exercise made me realize several things. First, I was amazed that the author’s writing could so easily draw us in and make us want more. His was a skill that had been honed and practiced and mastered.
I was also keenly aware that in earlier pre-electricity and pre-technology days writing had to be crafted with tremendous skill because readers were so much more intent on the writing. Every word was read and analyzed and the rhythms and cadences were easily detected by the ear when read aloud. Even a minor infarction was glaring.
My, how things have changed! Today the writing is often secondary to the message or the personality writing it. We are a rushed people. We want it short and to the point. Rarely do we take time to linger over words, letting them sink in gradually and fully. We equate writing to fast food rather than a meal to be savored.
And we are saturated with words. They bombard us from every direction. It’s like a kid who eats non-nutritious snacks all day and then snubs a gourmet meal when it’s set before him. We read so much that often the last thing we want to do is think too hard or digest writing that isn’t simple and easy.
That doesn’t make us bad or wrong. It’s simply the way life is now. The pace is faster, the savoring less.
But I wonder how we might feel about some of the writing that’s available today if we had to read it by candlelight night after night. If we took the time to focus, to really hear the way the author has streamed the words together, to shut out all other input and let the words speak to us. Would it be music to our ears or clanging cymbals?
After our experience in the dark, I’ve decided that it would be a great test of our own writing to have someone read it aloud to us by quiet candlelight. I venture to guess that our mistakes would slap us in the face and interruptions to the flow of words would be painfully obvious. But when all was said and done, a lot of editors might be job hunting.
Light a candle today. I dare you!
April 18, 2011
Labels: writing lessons