Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
May 7, 2014

Skimming: Never a Good Thing

by Fae Rowen

Skimming is defined as a crime. Well, it is. If you skim money from your job, you’re Pond scumgoing 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.

Butterfly on HikeSo 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 RowenFae 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.

37 comments on “Skimming: Never a Good Thing”

  1. Great post, Fae, and LOVE the photo and bio! Welcome to the world of the professional writer!
    Weird analogy, but I think it's like losing weight. It would be easy if you could just never eat again. I'm good with black and white - it's the gray that gets me. What to eat? When? Constant decisions, and the consistency of making the right decisions when there are a zillion a day, wears on me.

    Staying present is the same - we're bombarded by SO much input, it has to be filtered, or you are a zombie, then shut down entirely. So its constant decisions what to notice, and what to let go.
    I believe writers can do this better than others - or maybe they focus on different things. But thank God we do!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    1. Thanks, Laura. My first clue that I'm ignoring important input is when I don't budge from the all-or-nothing mode. too bad I can be clueless...

  2. Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Fae.
    Staying in the moment is something I remind myself of constantly.

  3. Fae, as an incurable people watcher, I thank you for noticing. I can't remember a day in my life that I wasn't fascinated by the smallest details and nuances of people ... I remember how they moved, if they use their hands to talk, if they have eye contact. My dad used to cover my eyes when we met strangers because he feared I would "see" too much. "Don't look inside, little girl. You have to be careful."

    It bothered him that I could see inside even the strangest stranger ... how I watched the neighborhood drunk, the crazy lady we called Crazy Mary, the kid two houses down who never grew mentally past the age of four and her lovely smile. I learned later that her parents thought she was a blessing, a kind soul who saw only the good.

    When we don't focus on the world around us, we risk missing all those wonderful, terrible and amazing things people tell us when they are NOT talking. Oh ... and I love that you need to be reminded to pay your bills. Me too. I have a good friend who is planted solidly in reality and without her I might go off on any given day and smell the roses and lose my shirt 🙂

    1. How amazing that your eyes were wide open even as a little girl. And yes, I tell my friends I'm in their lives to provide comic relief--so they can laugh at me when they call sometimes on a week-end and I ask, "What day is it?" because I've been so deep in my writing I've lost all sense of time. Reality--that's my husband's job.

  4. I shared on Facebook and Tweeted. It is a great post. I caught myself zoning out a few days ago. I suddenly realized I had left the conversation. I'm trying to watch people at McDonald's where I'm hanging out for the next two weeks. The niece is working in Round Rock, TX for two weeks and it's a bit far to go back home and come back to get her like we do when she's in Temple. But I need the music to drown out the TV behind me that's tuned to ESPN. SO BORING! I don't mind CNN but I'm not into sports or talk TV either one.
    I was watching a little boy playing through the window with another little boy on Monday. One was in the play area and the other one was at a table in the dining area. He'd tried to sneak off to play instead of eating but got caught by grandma and returned to the table. I laughed when I saw him get busted.

  5. Wonderful post, Fae! Thank you. I'm a people watcher and love observing nuances of speech and body language. I keep a little notebook to write down things I've overheard people say.

    1. I wish I were as organized as you. I hear something, think, "Oh, I have to remember that" and poof! It's gone and I only have the memory of "That was really good."

  6. Awesome post, Fae! Sometimes when I observe my mind shuts down at the question of why or how, afraid of the answer I might get. This sometimes stifles me as a writer. I need to jump over that hurdle and let my curiosity fly. This post is a giant nudge for me in that direction. Thanks.

    1. I tend to ignore things to shut my mind down, but that's from the fear of "going there." Life can be so much fuller if we're willing to look at all its parts, even the ones we'd rather sweep under the rug. Good luck with that high jump!

  7. You’d ended by asking about stories. I actually used to be crazier than I am now, to the shock of friends and family. I checked out to the point I could no longer tell if I was asleep or awake and it was hard to explain it to people, though Inception came out a couple years later making it much easier.
    I realized the problem was the monotony. I saw no value in participating because it was all things I’d already done. Someone told me I may have to try more severe methods for coping and I turned them shouting “Like hell I can’t handle this.” I started visiting with my family more, went back to people watching, and most importantly just cared more about people. There’s nothing of greater benefit or value than investing your time in people. In my opinion, at least.

    1. People and relationships drive my life now, too. And taking the time to "stop and smell the roses" in every way I can. Thanks for sharing a piece of your story with us, Jay.

  8. As my Chinese husband would say, I-yuh! This post was right on. There are only so many hours in a day and lately I've had to prioritize and often that means "skimming." 🙁 Skimming on "me" time mostly and skimming on life in general to get what my mom always called "the rat-killing" done and out of the way. Lately I've been over-run with those rats. 🙂 I needed this reminder to take time and smell the roses. Rats don't eat roses, do they? Gads!

    1. Sometimes, when you get buried under a load of the stinky stuff that makes roses grow so well, you just have to dig out, Sharla. Thanks for the "rat-killing" line. I'm add it to my tools to stay present in the moment.

  9. What a wonderful post! This goes right along with the things I have been practicing to lead a more peaceful life, and to be mindful. Beautifully written, too.

  10. What a great post. Staying ALL in the moment is something I'm striving to become better at. I'm learning to slow down and savor my days, my moments, and not skim past them. Loved this. I want to live fully awake. 🙂

    Thanks for these beautiful thoughts!

    1. I'm amazed at how, when I'm not sleep-walking through my days, even the not-so-pretty bits give me "juice." Thanks for your comments, Jeanne. Here's to living fully awake!

  11. People can start tuning back in by putting down their damned cell phones for 2 minutes! OMG! What if I miss a text!!!!

    Gadgets are turning us into pacified little consumers, aren't they?

    1. Some of my friends don't understand that I don't keep my cell phones at hand, that I don't answer the phone if I'm busy or just don't want to talk to anyone. And I'd rather talk to someone than text back and forth. I think cell phones are the new earbuds, a convenient way to tune out to the world. Tuning into the world-our lives-is free. No profit for anyone but us in that.

  12. Fae, I don't know if I'll ever get the 'hang' of stopping to smell all the roses. Some of them, yes. But it helps to be reminded I should keep trying! Great post.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved