Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Valuable Quote for Writers

Harriet Cooper, Toronto Writer

One of the great boons of the internet is that we can carry on a full conversation with a friend in another country with the click of the mouse. Yesterday, writer Buddy, Harriet Cooper, and I were having a chit-chat. She mentioned that she'd pulled out an old story and was reworking to fit a new Chicken Soup book. Harriet has more stories in Chicken Soup books than anyone I know.

Harriet said that she had noticed some differences in her present day writing over what she'd produced several years ago. I asked her what had changed. Her answer is below.

As for what's changed? Not the voice. That's been pretty consistent. But my technique has changed. A lot less narrative, more scene setting, more attention to flow, better word choice. Before I was so engrossed in the content that I didn't pay much attention to the form. I don't even think I was aware of form. Now I am. For that reason, I think my work is much better because the content and form now help each other rather than work against it. 
                                                                            ---Harriet Cooper

I definitely think Harriet's comment is a gem. We all start out with content and get so engrossed in it that sometimes we forget the form part of writing. It's easy enough to use a great deal of narrative to tell your story. But if you do as Harriet suggests--'more scene setting, attention to flow, better word choice'--your story will glow.

In addition, using more sensory details brings a sparkle to the basic story. Watching things like repetition of words and writing tight instead of rambling on and on will increase the chances that your story will be selected for publication.

Read Harriet's quote again. Maybe read it a few more times. There's gold in her words. Step 2 is to put those things to work in your own writing. Make it shine!

P.S.  Be sure to read Harriet's comment below.


  1. In case anyone is wondering, the cat I'm holding in the picture is Gracie. Right now she is lying on my desk, the epitome of grace. She is also the subject of many of my pieces.

    As to the quote: writing technique is a skill that comes with time. One year, I decided to emphasize a particular skill for weeks or months until I felt I had moved to a deeper understanding of that skill. Then I worked on another skill and another.

    It's impossible to learn everything at once. But having put in the effort at the various skills, I can now integrate them into my writing without being conscious about them. Of course, in the editing phase, I am very conscious of those aspects.

    Writing is a marriage of form and content - writing the perfect piece is probably as hard as having the perfect marriage. They both require constant attention. But when it works - ah!!!!!!!


  2. There definitely is gold in that quote. Thanks for sharing, Harriet and Nancy.

    I also like Harriet's comment that even just one skill can take time to develop, and writing as a whole involves many skills. It's a long, slow road, but I hope to be striding down it one day.

    1. I particularly liked the reference to take about a year to hone a particular skill. Harriett can cut to the chase in a minute!

  3. Harriet is absolutely right. I look back at my own stories, articles, etcetera, and I want to retrieve and rewrite them. Someone remarked that the third book of the Starlight series is so much more sophisticated than the first one. My initial response was that the first book, told from the perspective of a child, would naturally be less sophisticated than the last one, which has an adult's point of view. In all honestly, I have to admit that the third book is simply better written. With experience comes more skill. Harriet, your views are right on target. Thank you.

    Barbara Carpenter