I have a few favorite authors that I turn to again and again. Authors whose books I kept when I got rid of 600 other books over a two week period. And while most of my bibliophile friends 1) can’t imagine doing that, and 2) are wondering why I didn’t call them first, I’ve enjoyed being free of most of my old and unread books.
But I’ve kept these authors’ books because I learned something from them. A lot of these writers, and one singer, have imparted lessons to me, either through their writings or their interviews. So here are 10 lessons I have learned from 9 of my most favoritest authors (and 1 singer).
1) Pictures speak volumes — Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions. Anyone who ever read Breakfast of Champions will remember the crude, childish drawings he included in his story, including a couple of drawings of people’s anatomy. I’m not suggesting you use these particular drawings, but rather, use pictures and videos to support your point and make your post more interesting to readers. Load your photos into Flickr or Picasa, or use Creative Commons or stock photos, and use them to add a little variety to your posts.
2) String together a series of ledes – Hunter S. Thompson. This is why Hunter S. Thompson was such a powerful writer. In journalism school, students are taught to write one lede (lead, if you must), and then supporting information, and the content gets less important and less interesting the further you go. But Thompson would just string together a bunch of ledes, one after the other — bam, bam, bam!! — and pummel you with them. Then he would calm down a bit before hitting you again with another series of body blows. That’s why he was so exciting to read. That, and all the crazy drug references.
3) Write short sentences — Ernest Hemingway, Big Two-Hearted River. I use this sample a lot in my writing presentations.
Nick was hungry. He did not believe he had ever been hungrier. He opened and emptied a can of pork and beans and a can of spaghetti into the frying pan. “I’ve got a right to eat this kind of stuff, if I’m willing to carry it,” Nick said. His voice sounded strange in the darkening woods. He did not speak again.
I checked this out once on the Flesch-Kincaid reading level, and it came back as a 3rd grade level block of text. Newspapers are written at about a 6th grade reading level, and your blogs should be too. Not because your readers are dumb, but because they have come to expect it. They want short, simple, and easy to understand.
4) Write long, flowing, descriptive sentences — Roger Angell, baseball writer for The New Yorker. Yes, this contradicts my previous point. I’ve been reading Roger Angell for about two years now, and he is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. His descriptions of baseball games are magical. I can feel like I’m there in the park with him, in 1965, watching a Mets game, or in 1969, watching the Detroit Tigers. His writing flows smoothly, like an expensive new pen on creamy writing paper. There are times your writing will need to be more like Angell’s and less like Hemingway’s.
5) Use metaphors —Tom Waits — Putnam County, Nighthawks at the Diner. I talked before about how Tom Waits uses metaphors to create very powerful writing. His song, Putnam County is rife with metaphors and a couple similes. Take a look at what he says about the morning dawn.
And the impending squint of first light
And it lurked behind a weepin’ marquee in downtown Putnam
Yeah, and it’d be pullin’ up any minute now
Just like a bastard amber Velveeta yellow cab on a rainy corner
And be blowin’ its horn in every window in town
My point is that you should sprinkle metaphors into your writing to create the drama, vivid imagery, and power that will make your writing stand out from everyone else’s.
We’ll cover the 2nd half of this list tomorrow.