Sunday, March 13, 2016

To Write, Read

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
                                                                Stephen King

King isn’t the only author who advises writers to read, read, read. I used to tell my Writing Lab students about the many people who directed future writers to read all they could. I remember one used to type one page from a favorite author’s book just before he started any of his own writing just to get a feel for language, voice, and pacing. I think the late Pat Conroy was another who said read and read some more.

Reading is no problem for me, but sometimes I can’t put the books down to do my own writing. I get hung up on a story and am lost in it. I promise to write as soon as I finish the book. Then again I read books where I appreciate the author’s voice, but it is nothing I would feel comfortable writing. Others I wish I could write pages just exactly like the ones I read!

I find reading poetry will lead me to writing more of my own poetry. Favorite poets I visit for inspiration are Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, and Jane Kenyon. Reading their lovely lines can set the stage for writing poem but also for writing beautiful essays as well.

I just finished Let the Great World Spin for my book club next month. Colm McCann writes very modern prose with foul language, snappy dialogue (often minus the quote marks), and 21st situations which means drugs, sex and violence. I have to say in the end I would agree with the reviewers that the book was a worthy and interesting read, but it is not something I will look for again or one I want to mimic.

The old classics of Willa Cather-Wallace Stegner-Margaret Mitchell-F. Scott Fitzgerald-Frank Schaffer all hold stories and characters I would like to have created. Modern writers like Anita Shreve, Lee Smith, Stewart O’Nan, and Elizabeth Berg are writers who tell a good story. One of my problems is defining exactly what I want to write; I don’t think I am meant for romance, fantasy, creative non-fiction, or anything mystical. If I had to say I could write only one book ever, I would want it to read to be an enduring read like To Kill a Mockingbird, My Antonia, or Gone with the Wind.

What writer do you read to inspire your own work or which existing book do you wish you had written?


Sioux said...

I love Sandra Dallas (you would love her "The Diary of Mattie Spencer" if you have not read it, or the "The Chili Queen." Her "Persian Pickle Club" is also wonderful).

Khalid Hosseini. Leonard Pitts, Jr. Ray Bradbury. (His book "Dandelion Wine" is NOT science fiction and there are gems on every page. Seriously.)

Maybe you could set a timer. Read for an hour. Write for a half an hour. Read for an hour, then write for thirty minutes.

Elephant's Child said...

I do love to read, and set few limitations on what I read. Different voices, different experiences, different perspectives ALL enrich my world. Some I would love to be able to emulate, and others serve as a warning.

Nasreen Iqbal said...

Hunter Thompson used to say he typed his fave authors' stuff so he could get into the voice, too. I am very sound-oriented, so I can read stuff aloud to get into it. The upside is that even when I think I am copying someone else's style completely, no one seems to notice, so I must either be good at coming trough with my own style or else be very bad at imitation.

rebecca said...

What a stimulating post, Claudia!
I'm definitely not a "writer" of novels (except in my head)!
However, I am constantly searching for great books to read.
Of course, I have my own criteria and find that the older I get, the more discriminating I am.
Have I told you how much I enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd's most recent book - The Invention of Wings, I believe was the title?