Kilpatrick’s Advice

It was cold at the old Family Dollar Tree building on Friday afternoon, so cold that my hands shook as I thumbed through some of the books at the Friends of the Library Sale. Did the cold temperature deter me? Not at all. Nor did it daunt the dozens of other readers on the prowl for a bargain.

I bought several books, but the only one I’ve looked through since Friday is The Writer’s Art by James J. Kilpatrick. His words have verified some things that other writers have taught me, and they’ve assuaged my feelings of inadequacy in others. Speaking of “assuaged,” I’m not so sure that he’d approve of its use in the previous sentence. Kilpatrick instructs his readers to “use familiar words—words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary and no advice is more difficult to accept. “ Still, I couldn’t resist.

Since becoming a member of a writing group, I’ve become aware of certain weaknesses in my writing. For instance, I have a tendency to use the same word or phrase more than once in a passage. Here’s an excerpt from Eve’s Sisters that illustrates this inclination.

“All of this family talk dredged up lots of memories from my past. I used to go to Forest City, North Carolina with my paternal grandparents on a frequent basis and can still recall sitting in the back seat of the celery green Chevy as we wound around curvy two-lane roads.  All of the family talk must have still been on my mind Sunday morning….” Did you catch it, the twice-in-one-paragraph usage of family talk? I cringed when I reread it, especially since it was too late to edit the sentences.

After reading Kilpatrick’s view on this issue, I feel much better. He says that sometimes it’s better to use the same word or term more than once and gives a marvelous example of a feature writer who wrote a piece on the United Fruit Company. “He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. ‘The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,’ he wrote. A fourth bananas would have been better.”

Every author who offers advice to would-be writers says that good readers make good writers. From Stephen King to Anna Quindlen and everyone in-between, they all say the same thing: READ. Kilpatrick says that “we ought to read everything. Read matchbox covers, read labels on cans of cleaner, read the graffiti on lavatory walls. Read for information, read for style, read for instruction, read for the sheer love of reading….Incessant reading will help your everyday composition.”

As someone who’s learning how to be a writer, I loved having an expert give me an excuse for reading. Seriously, do you know how many people say disparaging remarks to people who read every day? “What are you, a bookworm or something?” they ask.  Yes, I am. And because of it, today I’ve learned some new advice on writing from Kilpatrick, how it feels to crash in the desert and see mirages (Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery), and more about the banished Queen Vashti from Esther (Old Testament).

So……while I have yet to begin writing about my great-grandmother Minnie, I’ve been doing some groundwork, some reading. After all, good readers make good writers.

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
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2 Responses to Kilpatrick’s Advice

  1. As a writer with a literary blog, I must thank you for starting this very important conversation. Reading is so important to those looking to become great writers, and even though we may have a hard time making the importance of our reading known, it is still a vital part of our lives. Great and insightful post!


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