Hey, it's André & Shawn…
We've been thinking and talking about writing a lot lately.
Communicating clearly and effectively with the written word is important for everything we do.
Part of our journey is a never-ending commitment to improve our craft. One way we do that is by reading and studying other writers.
Today we're going to discuss two writers who have influenced us, and share a few ideas and resources that could improve your writing as well.
Let's get started…
… enter André.
If you've been reading what I write for any length of time, it'll be no surprise that Lee Child, the fiction author and creator of the Jack Reacher series, is the writer who has impacted how I write more than any other.
I read Persuader in 2009. Until then, I had not read fiction, not since school.
The first sentence hit me…
The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot.
I had to read that sentence again, … then again until the implication dawned on me. I continued, the second sentence sucking me further in.
He moved like he knew his fate in advance. He pushed the door against the resistance of a stiff hinge and swiveled slowly on the worn vinyl seat and planted both feet flat on the road.
And just like that, I was hooked.
My attention captured, the movie spooling in my head more vivid than any Hollywood Blockbuster.
Child's writing style instantly connected with me. It doesn't for everyone.
As a slow reader, his prose was easy to read, this style pulled me along, and the narrative devices he used (subtext, implications, open loops, anticipation — always teasing, never giving the reader too much, always keeping me guessing), bloomed an experience that felt magical.
If you've read Lee Child, you'll know what I mean when I say his sentences are short, staccato-like. Not all, but many.
So I imitated it.
Allowing it to “inspire” how I wrote.
Writing that became Child-esque to some degree.
Here's an excerpt from the latest Reacher book (#27), No Plan B, which I'm still reading, savoring it slowly.
The light filtering through the drapes switched from dull gray to pulsing red and blue. Reacher peered out of the window. There were two police cars in the parking lot. One outside his room. One at the far end. An officer was already on foot, heading for the office. To talk to the clerk. To check on numbers and dispositions. And to get a passkey. None of those things would take long. (No Plan B, p. 50)
It's writing that's fast. It pulls the reader along.
My earlier writing was heavily Child-inspired. Here are some random email excerpts from a decade ago; the style easy to recognize, easy to write. So I wrote like this for years.
How I write now has evolved, but Lee Child (with Persuader) is where it all started, a correlation clear as day.
Find an author you enjoy, then do two things:
First, read as a reader…
Go on the journey. Allow the words, the prose, to wash over you, pulling you along, sucking you in, then spitting you out. You'll be changed in some way. Recognize what's just happened. The experience, the magic.
Then read as a writer, analyzing…
Ask yourself questions, highlighting passages that pop out. Then handwrite them. Yes, analog. Write them down. Something weird happens when you do that. Trust me. I can't explain it, but it'll rewire parts of your brain, allowing you to “internalize” the style more precisely.
Don't copy. Imitate, be inspired by the writer.
And now it's Shawn's turn…
I had a tough choice between two authors: John McPhee and Elmore Leonard.
McPhee's Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process may be the most important book about writing I've ever read.
Whenever I write I remind myself that, in McPhee's words, “A piece of writing has to start somewhere, go somewhere, and sit down when it gets there.”
I love that.
But, McPhee's style closely matches my natural style as a writer. He pushes me to improve my strengths.
Elmore Leonard, on the other hand, smashes me up against many of my weaknesses.
The New York Times Book Review has called Leonard “the greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever.”
I was introduced to Leonard by watching the TV series Justified. The characters, writing, and especially the dialogue pulled me in from the opening scene in season 1.
Justified is based on the short story Fire in the Hole. That's a great place to start if you'd like to get a sense of Leonard's style.
And if you haven't watched Justified, I envy you. Just watch it and savor every one of the seventy-six episodes. You can thank me later.
Here are a few scenes to get a sense of the writing.
- Raylan Visits Boyd (the two main characters meet in episode 1)
- Raylan and Hotrod (the dialogue in this scene is extraordinary)
- Storytelling (Raylan delivers a masterclass in exposition)
There's raw power in Elmore Leonard's writing. It just feels so … right.
And there's a musicality — his writing begs to be heard.
I read everything I write out loud, always listening for the rhythms, patterns, and paying attention to anything that feels like it takes away from the music.
I often re-read Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing. Rule #10 is my favorite: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
He summed up the ten rules with the best writing advice ever:
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
If you're building and engaging with an audience — or you plan to — writing is one of the most important skills you can develop.
We think it's the most important skill.
And one of the best ways to improve your writing is to learn from other writers!
Writing isn't magic, even if it feels like it sometimes. It's a skill that can be learned, practiced, and improved.
And in our experience, it's worth 10,000x (and more) whatever time, energy, and dollars you spend to get better at it.
Enjoy your weekend.