An essay of mine, How I broke up with my book, is in very good company over at the Humber Writer's Blog ... David Mitchell, Timothy Findley, Miriam Toews, Erin Bedford. I am so very lucky!
(The soundtrack for this blog post, by the way, is Sesame Street's "One of these things is not like the others ... " )
READ LIKE A WRITER
If you want to be a writer, I think you'll agree: Reading is important. For all the idealogical reasons you've heard a thousand times before, people will be better versions of themselves if they read. But if you are a writer or a want-to-be-writer, it is even more important. Than what? Than everything. Don't believe me? Take his word for it:
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” STEPHEN KING
Reading is a writer's best teacher. With that in mind, here are a few hints on how to get the most out of the next book you read.
Make reading your job
With practice, critical reading will become second nature. Until it does, it will seem like work. At first, you should separate reading for enjoyment from reading for education. Also, choose stories that you know well, and love to read. It will make work seem less like work, and it will be easier to put your finger on the things that you really love about the writing. Before you sit down to reread your favourite books, imagine you are interviewing the author, trying to discover why and how they wrote the book the way they did.
Because I write and read fiction, my questions naturally focus on characters and setting, narrative style, and dialogue. I pay particular attention to beginnings and endings. Why did the story start at that moment, and not another? Why is the story over now?
As you begin, do your best to read critically at least once a week. You don't have to read Ulysses to be a serious reader. Short stories, magazine articles, cereal boxes. They are all trying to communicate something to you. The questions you must ask if you want to improve your own writing are :
It is easy to be a genre snob, but don't ever turn away great writing. We learn from people who are experts in our field, yes, but we also have a great deal to learn from people who do things differently than we normally would.
Also, read everything. I know this seems like repetition, but what I mean this time is that you should use your interrogative mind all the time. Books are not the only thing we can or should be reading. Movies and television and songs--somebody wrote them, so it follows that you should read them too. This is critical analysis though, don't forget, not an excuse to binge-watch Downton or Game of Thrones.
For More on this Topic --
Author Interviews from:
Writers and Company with Eleanor Wachtel
The Paris Review
Authors on Reading
Another NPR series, You Must Read This: books recommended by authors
Ten Famous Writers on How to Read
Books about Reading Books
How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Like Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose
How Fiction Works, By James Wood
Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, by Wendy Lesser
Next time In The Workshop: Easy Fixes
How to deal with rejection:
Next time In The Workshop: Read like a Writer
I found this photograph online last night and, as I sat staring, thinking about all the stories this one picture could inspire, I decided to make a new theme day: Photo on Friday.
I hope, for writers that visit, it will inspire a few thought experiments--perhaps even a new project. And for everyone else, I don't think anyone has ever said---Nah. I'd rather not see something amazing.
I had this big idea. I started thinking it in grade two, just after I had a handle on reading and writing, as I filled page after page of half-scap paper with phonetically-spelled words and finger spaces. I would be an author.
At seven, I had no reservations about that word. I'd never heard of self-aggrandizement. When my teacher sent me to represent my grade at a regional writing conference based on my profound book, I Like Summer Because ..., I was convinced I'd made it. My Dad even laminated and coil-bound this first masterwork; of course I was an author.
I kept writing. My books got longer, more pages stapled together, now on full-scap, not half. I discovered dialogue and story arcs and conclusions that weren't The End. I wasn't very good at any of them yet, but I had a kind and encouraging audience.
In grade eight I won the English award at my public school. I had been wanting to win this award since grade five. I thought if I won it, then people would definitely have to say I was an author. The self-doubt had crept in, apparently, and the idea that I needed evidence if I wanted to call myself an author.
Promptly, I stopped writing stories. Maybe because I had to bear-up now. I knew what pretentious meant, I even knew how to spell it. I discovered I was an excellent writer--essays, exams, letters--everyone said so, and nobody needed any more proof than my wide vocabulary and correct spelling.
Still, I held onto this one big idea. I would be an author. At sixteen, I made a list of fifteen-year goals. #3 Write a novel and have it published. With this in mind, I started to write stories again, in secret, in notebooks that I hid on the top-shelf of my closet. I snuck back to read them later, scratching or tearing out everything I’d written down.
At home, at school, with friends and family, I talked and talked about authors, books, about writing, poetry, song lyrics, any kind of creative writing. I knew I wanted to be in the world, but I didn’t want to go out on any limbs. People might notice me, way out there, teetering on that wobbly branch. They would point, maybe laugh. I might fall.
And then people offered to catch me. They told me to try. I had this big idea and they were maybe sick of hearing about it. I set up a little desk in the corner of my apartment, right out there in the open, and started writing. Less and less was scratched out (or backspaced), fewer pages were torn out (or moved to Recycle Bin). Over time, pages became chapters became a first draft, a second, third. I enrolled at a creative writing school and worked with an Author (she had three real published books and a significant award to her name) who gave me fair and constructive criticism.
Slowly, slowly, all these drafts became a novel. I wrote a book.
Soon, I'll be starting another. Because I still have this big idea. One day, I will be an author.
Erin Bedford, writer.