On Being Writerly

I often find myself viewing random details with the eyes of a writer. For instance, I don’t just see half-melted snow on a sidewalk, I see melted shoe-shapes in the snow on the sidewalk. And the light shining in my bathroom window? Nothing so mundane. I see light reflected in tiny droplets on the glass, like miniature suns. Or, that strange winter’s night when the street was a black ribbon that disappeared into the fog…


Does this ever happen to you? 


I blame it on Sol Stein. In his excellent book, Stein On Writing, he admonishes us to write in a writerly fashion. In his chapter “The Writer’s Job…,” he writes:


“Despite our alleged reverence for fact, the truth is that our adrenaline rises most in response to effective expression. When a writer or speaker understands the electricity of fresh simile and metaphor, his choice of words empowers our feelings, his language compels our attention, acceptance, and action. When Shakespeare speaks, when Lincoln orates, we are moved not by information but by the excellence of their diction. Alone in a living room, our book lit by a chair-side lamp, we are enraptured by what is said because of the author’s choice of words and their order on the page.”


In other words, be creative and original. At the end of his book, he has “Ten Commandments for Writers.” My favorite is #7:  “Thy language shall be precise, clear, and bear the wings of angels, for anything less is the province of businessmen and academics and not of writers.”


Now that’s a directive. 


I’ve found that being writerly encompasses not just writing, but the way in which I interpret the world around me. Details are processed through the filter of creative language, and from there to words on the page.


Be alert, be aware, be writerly… and listen for the whisper of angel’s wings.  


(Thank you, Mr. Stein.)





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