Ginnah Howard, author of Night Navigation, joins Shelagh Shapiro on Write The Book.

This week's Write The Book prompt was inspired by the work of my guest, Ginnah Howard, who mentioned a few times during our talk how important rhythm is to her in her own work and in the books she admires. In order to get a better sense of the rhythm of her prose, she often reads her work out loud. Your prompt this week, then, is to read aloud. Really listen to what you've written. You may find it differs from what you thought it would sound like. Listen for simple mistakes, for repeated words that you didn't intend to place so close together. As you read, pause in appropriate places for the punctuation you've used. Pay attention to the length of your sentences. Does their length reflect the intended mood of the fictional moment? Listen for the following elements, and decide if they are serving your work, or distracting from it: rhyme, fragments, alliteration, and repetitive sentence structure. In this last case, watch in particular for the repeated use of a subject, verb, object structure that may lull readers or distract them, making them lose their way. For example, which sounds better?

Mary had a little lamb. Mary's lamb had white fleece. Mary's lamb followed her everywhere. Mary's lamb really got on her nerves after a while. He wanted to follow her to school. She had to stop him.


Mary had a lamb. Fleecy and white, it was a sweet little animal, and very devoted. While Mary loved how the lamb followed her from room to room, she had to keep him from actually coming to school with her.

Finally, you might find it helpful to have someone else read your work aloud to you. If this is too embarrassing, you might look to see if your word processing program has a "speak text" feature. Speak text allows you to highlight sections of work and have the computer read them back. Despite the somewhat robotic voices that some computers have, you might hear something you'd missed, just by virtue of being read to.

In fact, using sound editing software, you can actually record your entire book and put it on your mp3 player, which is pretty cool.  You can email me ( if you want to know how to do this.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

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  • Maggie Schramm

    Dear Ms. Shapiro,

    Thank you for the marvelous interview. Unlike some interviewers, you drew the author out on important elements of her art rather than imposing your own assumptions and ideas on her book.

    I loved hearing Ginnah Howard talk about her craft, her approach to writing, and the authors whom she reads. The story of her beginnings as a writer is inspiring, for she speaks as if we all could follow in her footsteps.

    I was fascinated to hear her speak about minimalist writers like Raymond Carver because I find her prose far more eloquent and powerful. Maybe I should go back and read Carver again, having been moved by “Night Navigation,” in particular, by its elegant style and compelling characters.

    Thank you for doing such a grand interview of this important author.


    Maggie Schramm

    May 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm
  • writethebook

    Maggie, thank you so much for your kind appraisal of this interview! I knew from the start that Ginnah would be easy to talk to; she has a way with words - on paper or in dialogue. Great to know you enjoyed our talk.

    I believe studying Carver is useful for every writer. I think his minimalism, his lack of emotional “telling,” is such a valuable lesson, even if applied with a light touch.

    Best, Shelagh

    May 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm