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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Forest or Trees?

One of my editing instructors at the University of Chicago, Graham School,  recommended How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish. I've scratched the surface of it and it already has started me thinking about our interactions with sentences.

Lately I've become conscious of my reading style. When I'm reading for pleasure/escape, I often read for a couple pages and realize my mind has strayed from the piece. If I feel like I've gotten the overall sense of the piece, I'll re-focus and keep reading. (Does this ever happen to you?) If I'm able to re-engage, then I generally can pick up the overall meaning--the forest--of the piece. (I tried to find another analogy, but the color of the fall leaves have been captivating!)

Forest, trees or leaves | PHOTO: P. Humphrey
If I re-engage in a piece and am swept away, I may return to what I missed. Over the weekend, while reading a book by one of my favorite novelists, I found myself reading more deliberately and fighting the urge to rush through it because it was so good.

My husband, who is not a writer or editor, practices the opposite to my reading habits. With each piece of writing, he feels he must truly engage in the reading. It seems that he luxuriates in the words he is reading. He is an amazing reader to have because he takes such care. He looks at each tree in the forest and sometimes I suspect he is looking at every leaf.

When I edit, I travel all over the forest, staring at trees and leaves. I do manage to slow down my reading and study the writing. I become more professorial, pulling out a magnifying glass (or reading glasses) and wading in, as if on an expedition.

At the end of the day, it's always a nice feeling to have ventured into the forest and spend some time with the trees.

How about you and your forest adventures? Are you a forest or tree type--or do you venture in and stare at the leaves?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a freelance writer and editor. After staring at trees, she plans to finish How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.

1 comment:

  1. I do try to stay with it and read what's been offered. If I realize I've "fuzzed out" and skipped over, then I go back and re-read. Sometimes clues are hidden in the most innocuous places,and I don't want to miss them!


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