November 17, 2010
It’s hard to get your readers to lose themselves in what you’re writing. Make sure you haven’t left something in your prose that is fighting your purpose.
Have you ever met someone with a physical characteristic you just can’t ignore? You may find that you are distracted enough to have stopped hearing what they are saying to you. At the very least, you are a little distracted.
Last night I was distracted by a dinner plate.
I taught all day yesterday at a client site and stopped for dinner on my way back to the hotel. I brought a book with me and every time a waiter came to my table I closed the book and gave them my full attention. To do otherwise would have been rude.
While I was eating my dinner the waiter brought me my check. It was a little rude as the message was clear. They weren’t making enough off of my table with just one person sitting at it. They wanted to turn the table and fill it with a group who might have let the waiter up sell them to an appetizer or two while they are waiting or to one of their special seasonal cocktails.
I didn’t get mad. I saw his point. And also, I hate waiting for the check at the end of a meal when I’m clearly ready to go. So I finished my meal and paid the check. The waiter immediately took my payment and brought back the receipt.
I know when we write we often skip details to keep the story focused and to speed it along. Perhaps you think I skipped the part where the waiter took my empty dinner plate. I didn’t. He left the dirty dish in front of me when he picked up my credit card. He left it there when he returned with my card and the receipts. He didn’t pick up the dish and he didn’t offer to refill my water. For that matter, he brought my bill without asking if I wanted dessert. I didn’t. But how was he to know that.
So I thought I’d sit and wait a bit to see if he’d come back over to clear the dirty dishes. After all, this was the point at which I was calculating his tip. He didn’t. I sat. The dish sat. I pulled out my book and read a while. The plate was still there.
Finally, I reached for the credit card receipt to sign and leave. I started to give him a poor tip and then I realized he’d given me a great lesson in writing and deserved to get rewarded for this inadvertent gift.
Find those dirty dishes in your writing. Find those things in your work that distract your readers from noticing all of your good work because they can’t move their attention from that one distracting thing.
Find them and fix them.