Sunday 15 July 2012

Writers as readers

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: writers must read. Writers are probably writers because they read. They’ve picked up a rhythm for writing and a love for words and language via a sort of osmosis.
I’ve recently read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, Union Books. This is an academic book really and even the Kindle price is not cheap. However, Prose makes several valid points. Naturally she agrees with me, and probably every other creative writing teacher, that reading is extremely important for the writer and also that reading as a writer is slightly different from reading as a reader, though writers are also allowed to be readers.
Prose also makes the point that clearly many of the writers she quotes break several of the rules that creative writing teachers offer, though it is the study of other writing that suggests that these rules exist. She discusses reading generally then looks how we find help with our words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details and gesture by reading others. She cites Chekhov as a great master and further suggests that we might turn to the work of others when we feel discouraged; perhaps if we have a particular scene that does not work we might look to see how others have handled this type of problem – and we can often be pleasantly surprised.
Reading is never quite the same again for the writer who reads critically aware of how other writers have used their skill and crafts to engage and enthral their readers. Yet they’re in no worse position than the literature scholar who reads just as critically but against a different framework, though the writer’s one is remarkably similar to what Prose calls the New Criticism and involves closer reading.
Just occasionally we may meet a text that takes us out of our editor’s brain – hence my other blog, Recommended Reads. Here’s the rub however: even though we are spurred to leave our editing head behind, we still try to work out how the writer did it.        

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