On Writing

By wayne klatt

When I was 11 my parents and teacher thought I was retarded until I did well enough on an IQ test. We had recently moved, and I no longer had any friends. When we were assigned to write a long religious essay, I imagined that I was talking to someone I liked.

A priest came in and told me to stand up. He said my spelling, syntax, and handwriting were the worst in the very large class, and quietly added: “You won.” Not long afterward, we were invited to write to an elderly hospitalized priest. He picked my letter and one other as the best from our school.

Eventually I realized that I would be miserable if I couldn’t type away with my magical three fingers. I still imagine myself talking to friends, and that is why I love book-signings. I am a retired news editor and have written or co-written seven published factual books, as well as a number of magazine articles.

When I have fully worked out the book or story, I write an outline. Sometimes I am stuck for a specific idea, but I am too organized for writer’s block. In factual writing, the material should determine the form. For tone, I imagine the reader is a little more intelligent than I am, so that I am continually challenged to do better. If my imaginary reader is too intelligent, I would be intimidated. If I ever felt superior to my readers — God help me! — I would be writing without concentration. I don’t regard the first draft as writing: it’s just dumping all the elements into one place. The real writing comes from moving the elements around, and then going over the material day after day while imagining that I am the reader.