Thursday, March 13, 2003

I’ve always loved the musical cadences of spoken language. I like to write prose that sounds like speech, that would sound good if it were read aloud. But as a result, I’ve tended to pay more attention to the overall rhythm of sentences than that of individual words.

In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury has a few choice morsels of advice for aspiring writers. Among them is a suggestion that I’d seen before but never applied: “Read poetry every day.”

He argues that poetry is concentrated writing, and just about any writer can benefit from increased exposure to writers who have to pay attention to every single word they write.

It works. I’ve been reading a bit of poetry daily for the past couple of weeks. I can already feel the change in my writing. I pay closer attention to individual words. I notice the impact of word placement and proximity. I want to create little oases of wordplay and double-meaning.

As a result, I think my prose is tighter. I’m more sensitive to the choice of just the right word or phrase at any particular point.

This is a very good thing. I recommend it to any writer, and it needn’t be a time-consuming habit. A few minutes a day have been working wonders for me.

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