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Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Writing is a form of "hearing."

THIS TYPE OF FASCINATION IS OLD IN US. Consider a newborn and his mother's voice. His eyes aren't his eyes just yet. But his ears are sufficiently tuned. They "see" for him (baby's first metaphor). He will go where fascination leads him. The charm is too powerful.

It is one of the secrets to great wordcraft. Effective writing is all about fascination—being instructed and fed by it, following where it leads, submitting to its word choices (for they are always better than yours) and most of all making it stick to the page. Fascination has a great ear. To borrow from an old saw—no fascination in the writer, no fascination in the reader. The trick is liberating it, emancipating it, setting it free [I often employ the repetitive in a passion], then making it work on your behalf (exercising it).

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear.

—MACBETH, 1.5.27

Shakespeare did what he did because he loved it. It also made him an obscene amount of coin. Why? Because he made others love it. He taught them, as the best writers must, how to listen to him. And, as only he could say it, "there 's the rub." Your job as a writer is not only to perform but to lead, to instruct your reader how to listen to you, to create a sense of fascination in them, to nurture it, and let it work, remembering it is a kind of sorcery, a spell you are weaving, an irresistibly attractive influence.

Shakespeare wasn't thinking of the reader when he sat down to write. He was thinking about the playgoer. He couldn't depend on stage props or scene change to tell the story. Everything lived in the language—Verona streets, a day in a Venetian court, the senate of Rome, the Forest of Arden, it all had to live in his words. With Shakespeare, as with those who came after him, faith actually does come by hearing. If reading is a kind of listening, and it is, writing is a deeper kind of listening, the act of writing itself a form of "inspired play" as Stephen King has defined it. Either way, Shakespeare used fascination to his advantage. Fascination itself had to live in the work.

It has been suggested by scholars that the occasional difficulties encountered in experiencing a Shakespeare play was intentional, so the playgoer may be inclined to see a play again, and again.


Words do best when we cooperate with them, when we enter into a kind of partnership with them, neither putting them too far in front of us (the timid writer) or allowing them to lag behind (the reckless one). It is a journey best made with a trusted friend. Simplicity is anything but simple. Clarity only comes by addressing chaos, speaking to it in a GENESIS 1:1-3 kind of way, remembering there was speech before there was light.

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