Slow down, you move too fast

I can’t remember where, but I once heard someone recommend choosing a writer you admire and picking up a cheap copy of one of their books in paperback so you can sit down with a pen(cil) and carefully analyze their work.

I’ve yet to do this.writing-br

I have no idea why. My day job is an analyst. People actually pay me to sit down with stuff, study it closely, and come up with recommendations for improvement. You’d think this would be a no-brainer for me.

Recently, however, I finished a book by a writer who spends a great deal of time teaching others how to write. I didn’t take time to analyze him, either, but I did find myself paying attention to his style on occasion.

Photo by thebrooklinelibrary on Flickr
Photo by thebrooklinelibrary on Flickr

For example, he regularly coaches writers to avoid dialogue tags–you know, adverbs to describe how someone says something. Like, “Never mind that, you idiot!” he said impatiently. (underlined for emphasis.) And yet I caught him on several occasions using dialogue tags. So clearly there are times when they are okay.

I’ve also noticed I’ve picked up a bias somewhere that lengthy sections of description are a no-no. As a result my work tends to be light on description. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I noticed that this author includes a great deal of description, sometimes several paragraphs in a row or more.

So clearly it’s time I followed the advice to study a writer’s style in more detail. I’m setting myself a goal to do that within the next month, and then I’ll report on it here.

But in the mean time, has anyone else done this? Care to share your experience? Was it helpful? Was it difficult? Do you feel it was worth the time? Drop a comment!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.


I know now that I anazlyze everything I read, making it difficult TO READ sometimes.

Aften Brook Szymanski
Aften Brook Szymanski

I too have been stumped by writerly advice. I have the same limited descriptions and endless rows of said. Everything sounds like a fourth grader is talking or describing things because it's all immediate, short and feels choppy. Great advice for MG, but if I try to write anything else it feels thin.