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Monday, May 24, 2010

Feeding the Word Machine

My word machine has been making sounds I don’t like. It’s been hesitating, too; lurching in fits and starts, developing rust. Fortunately, I know a good solution.

Grain alcohol.

Kidding. The solution is reading. I knew this, but forgot. It comes back to me now because today is Michael Chabon’s birthday, and he’s the one who said reading feeds the word machine. He said this at a bookstore in DC, when he still shaved, and The Wonder Boys was about to come out. He looked straight at me. We connected.

When commenting on his writing habits, Michael Chabon said that first thing in the morning, in order to fuel the word machine, he reads something good. Facebook, Twitter and cereal boxes don’t count. He said pay attention to strong verbs, specific adjectives, seamless transitions. First thing in the morning, Mike (I call him Mike) prefers the New York Times, but The Compleat Angler or Erma Bombeck work, too.

A good read first thing in the morning makes me want to write something equally as good. Maybe it’s a jealousy thing: “Hey, how come she gets to use a sentence fragment?” Or a competitive thing: “I could diagram this sentence in four strokes.”

I’ve been reading mediocre books lately, and it’s not healthy. I read the last one all the way to the end, as if kids in India were starving for books, so I'd better be grateful for what I had in front of me. Well, I’m not going to do it anymore. Call me sesquipedalian if you must, but the word machine is constipated enough without topping off with mixed metaphors like that one right there.

Am reading The Given Day by Dennis Lehane right now. Good book. Makes me want to write. Definitely a jealous thing. Especially like how he leaves off the first word of sentences. Makes the writing pop in a masculine kinda way. Must be a guy thing.

I'll close with a Michael Chabon story. It’s kind of gossipy, so if Mike is your penultimate (your ultimate being, say, Shakespeare) you may not appreciate this, but here goes: My friend told me that her friend drove 1.5 hours to pick up Mr. Chabon from the airport (she called him Mr. Chabon), as he was to speak at the Jewish Community Center. He asked my friend’s friend not to talk for the 1.5 hour drive back, because he was writing. (?!)


I wonder what he’d just been reading.

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