Exclusive interview with Robert J. Ray

Robert J. Ray is the author of The Art of Reading, the Murdock mystery series, and the Weekend Novelist series.

How did The Art of Reading come about?

I had been teaching an advanced exposition class at Beloit College in Wisconsin. I used that class to field test my ideas about reading and writing, and I came up with exercises to use in the class. The exercises turned into a book. I was talking about it to a classics professor at a cocktail party one night, and he happened to be an acquisitions editor at Blaisdell Publishing.

So you never marketed it?

No. I didn’t know anything about marketing back then.

How would you describe The Art of Reading‘s approach to reading and writing?

Using colored ballpoints, the reader circles words. If you’re reading for structure, you circle words that repeat. If you’re reading for content, you circle nouns and verbs. Nouns in red, say, and verbs in blue. When you draw connecting lines, the patterns jump out at you. Seeing the patterns takes you into the style and mind-set of the writer. I still circle words.

Has your approach to writing changed since The Art of Reading was published?

Yeah. When I took a seminar with Natalie Goldberg, who is the guru of timed writing. It’s so simple. Set the timer. Write until it beeps. Read your writing aloud. Set your timer, write until it beeps. The timer distracts the left brain editor-critic-judge. You zone out on the writing.

I guess that takes care of writer’s block.

Yes. You escape the editor in your brain. After you write, you let it sit, and then you take it up again and edit it. You might look at her book, Writing Down the Bones.

Maybe you could write a book combining your approaches – your slow reading and her fast writing.

That’s not a bad idea.

What are you doing these days?

I just quit teaching. I’m revising The Weekend Novelist series. And there are more weekend novelist books in the pipeline. One on rewriting. Another on the personal memoir.

The Weekend Novelist concept seems like a good draw for writers who are in no position to quit their day jobs. People love the concept. They can no longer wait for the proverbial “block of time.” Writing a novel is possible if you do writing practice and follow the steps.

What is your philosophy of reading and writing?

Whether you are writing or reading, you do a better job if you get a feel for the words. Most people skim. They don’t see syllables. Unless they are trained actors, they read without rhythm. If you circle words, you slow down. If you slow down, you read deeper. When you read deeper, you go deeper with the writing. Going deep helps you escape the world of screens. TV, computer, movie theatre, PDA. The great poets felt the words. Our job as writers is to help readers go deep.


  1. Robert J. Ray was one of my college professors in a prior lifetime, at Beloit College. I may own one of the oldest extant copies of The Art of Reading / A Handbook on Writing.
    One of my still-treasured possessions is a yellowed, dog-eared copy of Lolita, with the best margin notes I have ever authored.

    1. Bill,
      I, too, had Bob Ray as a writing teacher at Beloit. I have tried for 11 years to “find” him. I know he moved to Seattle, but I cannot locate him through the Internet.
      Do you have an email address for him, or some other way to contact him? Thanks.

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