A piece of writing is a living thing. Our goal should be to serve it and do what it wants, to be its instrument. The flow of words from our mind to the page is impeded in two main ways—if we try to make the story do something that it doesn’t want to do, or if something in us isn’t ready to face the full implications of the work’s theme and emotions.
In the study of traditional Chinese painting, the term hua long dian jing speaks to the need for precision. It translates roughly to mean, “Dot the dragon’s eye, and it comes to life.” In other words, your subject remains inert until you add the precise detail that brings it, in the reader’s mind, to life. Often when we finish a draft, we feel the piece somehow isn’t working. Our writing group says they found it dull in places, or just “didn’t get it.” The culprit is often a lack of precision—the key, specific details that bring the world of the piece alive.
Your voice is how you write, the way you handle language, your style—if you have one. Do I? I write like I think. I like spontaneity. I push and pull, change speed and rhythm, balance short and long sentences. I compare it to jazz riffs and drumrolls. I’m economical with words, but I won’t interrupt a nice solo.
I never have to think about this. It’s me.
It is perhaps ironic that the exercise I consider most useful to spur originality is one I borrowed from another writer (William S. Burroughs). Then again, the best advice I ever received on writing in general was Oakley Hall’s two-word bromide: Steal Wisely.
A successful image can plug right into your reader’s nervous system at times when explanation falls flat. Consider, “Donna felt weak,” versus, “Donna was unable to bring the spoon to her mouth.” Which one makes you want to know what happens next?