by Fae Rowen
Skimming is defined as a crime. Well, it is. If you skim money from your job, you’re going to jail. Or worse depending on whom you work for. Skimming is also defined as removing floating matter from a liquid. Can you say pond scum? The third definition says, “To pass lightly and quickly over.” Not bad if you’re skimming rocks across water.
That brings us to the final definition of skimming: “To glance through and read quickly or superficially.” As writers, this is the one that can kill a career–even before it begins.
Why do we skim when we read? We’re in a hurry to get through the boring, the uninteresting, the unnecessary details because we want to get to the good stuff. Unfortunately, as humans we want to speed through those same ordinary parts of our days. And we want turbo-boost through the rough, the character-building, parts of our own lives.
If you’re skimming through your life, you are cheating not only yourself but your writing, and ultimately, your readers. I know we’re all busy and tired, so we consciously–and unconsciously–try to save energy. The problem is, when we “multi-task” we zero-observe. Not a good idea for our craft, because our experiences translate into the magic that flows from our fingertips.
Our job is to open our readers to new sensations, new ideas, new locales. If we sleepwalk through our days, we’ve got no fuel for our writer-fire.
Who doesn’t feel potential in the fuchsia and pink streaks across the bluing of the sky at dawn? Who can’t take joy at a baby’s gurgling laugh of glee on the discovery of toes, even after being up all night with the child? If we don’t wake up and notice the magnificence of life around us, in all its glories and defeats, how can we have any chance to inspire our readers?
No matter your genre, how can you share your world if you aren’t aware of the subtle interactions of others? Sure, we aren’t going to miss two colleagues screaming at each other at work, but did we miss the weeks (maybe months) of the small cues that led to the blowup? Did we miss the not-so-obvious clues? It’s those not-so-obvious clues that surprise our readers, providing the “twist” that makes our plots rise above others.
“If the well is dry, nobody’s getting a drink.” That’s an observation one of my characters made. As writers, we need to be reminded of this often. Take time to fill your well. Hone your powers of observation. You don’t need hours. You just need to wake up to your surroundings and stay present with what is happening in your life. Notice when you tend to “tune out” and be curious about why, really why, you do that. (You can’t use tired for an excuse.)
In fact, become very curious about everything. Not only will that keep you involved in your life, but you may find interesting perspectives about why you do what you do day after day, even if it’s not making you happy. Merely being observant is not being awake. A silent movie is simply the observations of a camera. The added sound comes from your feelings, your reactions to what you see.
A word of caution. Living your life completely, staying awake, isn’t easy. Don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble putting together five minutes of openness. And beware, you may uncover nastiness under that rug you’ve been ignoring.
But how can you expect your characters to work themselves out of those black moments we sink them into if we can’t get out of our own?
Awake is being engaged. Awake is feeling the moment. Awake is truly living.
So stop sleep-walking. Live your day today by trying to put together just five minutes of awake, even if they aren’t contiguous. Do this for yourself every day. It won’t be long until someone tells you your writing is different. Better. And I bet you’ll be able to say the same thing about your life.
Do you have tips on how to wake up? Are you willing to share a story about an experience that was different because you were fully engaged with your heart, your body, your very soul?
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules and watch what happens.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of arithmetic lessons gone wrong. She swears her Siamese cats can tell time (4 p.m. = dinner) and is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
Fae Rowen began writing after reading her favorite author’s entire backlist in three weeks and couldn’t bear the thought of waiting nine months for the next book. The sword-wielding hero that was in her head every night seemed like a good start. A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now enjoys sharing her brain with characters who demand their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.