September’s a Month for Literary Celebrations
This month we celebrate a hat trick of days of particular note: September 6th is Read A Book Day. September 7th is Buy A Book Day. September 8th is Literacy Day. Mark your calendars. And make it a point to appropriately commemorate those days.
If you’re pondering how best to do that, the first two are fairly straightforward. Read a book on September 6th; and buy a book on September 7th. But I certainly won’t rat you out if you observe them in reverse order and buy a book on September 6th and read it on the 7th. It’ll be our little secret.
As for Literacy Day, hug your local librarian. A gift of flowers or chocolates might be a nice gesture, too. You could also look up your favorite English teacher and say, “Thank you.”
Years ago, I ran into my eighth-grade English teacher in the refectory at my workplace. On site for a Catholic-school principals’ conference, Sister Annette was thrilled that not only did I remember her class, but I’d since become news editor of The Catholic Transcript, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Teachers love hearing about their former students’ having put education to good use—particularly if it’s in their subject area.
Now that you’ve got an idea of how to observe Literacy Day, let’s discuss the importance of Read A Book Day.
“But… but… I don’t have time to read! I’m too busy writing.”
That’s a common complaint among writers, especially new writers. If you seriously want to be a writer, you’ve got to be a reader. Writers who read—and who love to read—enjoy a broader range of knowledge than non-readers. They also tend to be more introspective about things in their world. Plus, their vocabularies are generally more robust than non-readers’. When writers read for pleasure, they frequently gravitate toward the sorts of works they enjoy writing. (You’re nodding, aren’t you?)
Even when we’re not reading, we’re bombarded by language. We get inundated daily by words and phrases, varying speech patterns, and scraps of dialogue. It’s practically impossible for that barrage of words and phrases not to influence your writing.
You can immerse yourself in a range of life experiences and allow these surroundings to shape your writing. Then again, it could pose a problem if you happen to be a proper Southern lady and your protagonist is a Ventura, California beach bum… or if you’re a New York Cityite and your novel is set on an off-grid homestead in Appalachia. In those instances, your imagination (or your research) may have to work overtime, but that’s seldom a bad thing.
If you struggle with descriptions and settings, or if you occasionally need inspiration to spark your creativity, these eight tips will make writing your trickiest descriptions seem effortless.
Another aspect writers wrestle with is dialogue. It’s meant to be spoken, so have a go at reading yours aloud. If it makes you feel self-conscious, wait ’til no one else is home. If the pets are within earshot, they might think you a bit left of reasonable, but so what? My dog thought I was nuts when I ran dialogue aloud, but who was she to judge? Her favorite pastime was rolling in poop! And the cat had been around me for fourteen years and was used to my strange antics—like hauling trees up to my third-floor apartment in winter and stringing lights on them. Read your dialogue aloud. Listen for rhythm and sound and cadence. Do your characters’ words flow well? Or do they seem choppy? You may need to tweak and revise ’til each character’s speech pattern feels right for that character.
You might also review these masters’ works for inspiration. Meander down to the library and flip through a favorite author’s writing. (While you’re there, don’t forget to hug the librarian!) And remember: Good dialogue is often lyrical, occasionally staccato, at times even jarring. Sometimes it grabs you by the throat and shakes the life out of you. That’s what memorable dialogue can do.
Finally, a word about Buy A Book Day. Chain bookstores have their appeal: in-store coffee shops featuring enticing cinnamon rolls and forty-two varieties of coffee… and gift cards that are usable nationwide and online. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to poke about in a cozy independent bookshop, where you can attend readings by local authors and find whole sections devoted to regional books. But unless you already know where your nearest indie bookshop is, how do you find one in your area? Give this handy little reference a whirl. Enter your ZIP Code (or the one in which you plan to be on September 7th), fiddle with the distance parameters based on how far you’re willing to drive, customize the number of results you want to see and click enter. Skippity-do, Bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a handy listing of local independent bookstores!
Now go forth and celebrate!
Rita M. Reali is an award-winning author whose work has appeared in Reminisce magazine, the S.H.A.R.E. pregnancy-loss newsletter, and newspapers across Connecticut and Tennessee. She’s spoken about editing at writers’ conferences and delivered presentations on proofreading to several professional groups. Rita also runs an editing and proofreading business, The Persnickety Proofreader,and blogs under the same moniker: https://persnicketyproofreader.wordpress.com. Her debut novel, Diagnosis: Love, was published in 2015.