A writer friend honed in on a couple of clichés in his reading of my novella. I knew they were there, but I hadn’t taken the time to replace or rewrite them before giving him the pages. I needed to get other eyes on the work, and I needed some distance from it.
The cliché-ridden passage described action that, while necessary to the scene, wasn’t particularly exciting–at least not as I’d written it. I’m very near completion on this novella, but in this case I struggled to rewrite for more elegant language without losing the forward motion.
After a while, I headed down to my bookshelf and pulled Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, and Paradise, by Toni Morrison. Each of these writers knows (or knew, in Woolf’s case) how to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, and more importantly, how to share that vision with her readers. After a few minutes of study, I had the perspective I needed to fix the problems in my work.
I don’t always run to the classics you might find in a literature class. For inspiration in writing action scenes, I’ve read passages from the Harry Potter series. I turn to my children’s young adult books for lessons on brevity and dialogue.
No matter how long you’ve been at your craft, you’ll occasionally run into roadblocks. The books on your shelf (or increasingly, on your e-reader) can coach you over, under, around, and through them. If you’re serious about your writing, then you’re serious about your reading.
Go write something!