Individual Writing Tips

And It Was Just Right

Twisted Plots

One Perfect Rose

Don’t Skin the Cat!


Becoming a Hero

Climbing Up to Kaboom

Rise up & Commit

Foiled Plans

Lights, Camera, Kickoff

Fixing the Most Common Intermediate Mistake

The Most Common Intermediate Mistake

The Art & Necessity of Critique

Set up & Pay Off

A POV Footnote

Single Spy to a Teeming Hoarde

Tense Persons


High Concept

Scoring in the Elevator

Show and Tell

Taking Out the Trash

Tale of Two Synopsises

Rising to the Occasion

Middle-of-the-Novel mud

Doghouse on Malibu Beach

Taking Away the Easy Button

Pitching to the Pros

Hunting for an agent

Playing for higher stakes

Exploding writing myths

Are you the next American Idol?

A Time to Write

TV or Not TV

What Colour Hat Does Your Universe Wear?

How Big a Hammer?

The Irrational Optimism of Writers

The Pesky Typo Hunt

A Point of

Making Your Reader Believe

The Art and Necessity of Critique: Part 2

The Art and Necessity of Critique: Part 1

Writing the Other

Beating the evil TV

Badge & Handcuffs

The Editor is Never Wrong, Mostly

Do You Want a Cookie?

But What Do the Trees Say?

Writing the Dread Synopsis

Writing Children's vs. Adult Books

Writing tip for Fall '05:

TV or not TV isn't the question:
Why we don't care what kids do instead of reading.

(This exactly isn't a writing tip, but I think it's worth considering, anyway.)

I was recently on a panel, talking to a group of booksellers about Creating the Lifelong Reader.  The moderator brought up a recent NEA study with the depressing news that kids, teens and college students are reading less than they were before.  (I haven't looked up the study, so I don't know how much less, or how long ago "before" was.  I understand it's available to download for Adobe Reader at www.nea.gov/pub.readingatrisk.pdf.)  The study also measured the amount of television watched by avid readers and by non readers, the assumption being that non readers would watch a lot more TV.  But according to the study, non readers watched television only one hour a week more than the avid readers...so whatever they were doing instead of reading, TV wasn't the culprit.  The panel suggested a number of less worthy activities that might be distracting these poor lost souls.  They might be playing video games, or into sports, or, or, or...  How terrible that these other things interfered with kids' reading.

Several weeks after the panel I told my writing group about that discussion, and they had a similar reaction.  It wasn't until the group had gone home and I was stuffing dirty mugs into the dishwasher that I suddenly realized that the whole question was based on a false premise.

The unspoken assumption behind this discussion is that if we could figure out what non readers are doing, and take it away from them, then (in desperate boredom) they'd have to turn to reading, right?  If we could somehow take away their TV, and video games, and sports, and...

But if you've ever known a non reader (I've had two in my family) you know that it's not that they like other things better than reading, it's that they hate to read.  It's hard, it bores them, and they'd rather do almost anything else.  If you took away TV and video games they'd call friends on the phone.  If you took their phone, they'd do jigsaw puzzles, or learn to juggle, or draw.  If you took those things away, they'd do the dishes, or clean their rooms, or take out the garbage.  What they're doing instead of reading is completely irrelevant—they don't like reading.  It's not fun for them.  The question isn't: What are they doing instead of reading?  The real question is: Can we somehow make reading fun for non readers?  Fun, like it is for us avid types, so they'd rather pick up a good book than almost anything else.  How can we get a book that will fire his imagination into a kid's hands, a book that makes him want to read more?

I don't know the answer, but at least we should start asking the right questions.