Renee's post (hot off yesterday's press) about blending genres got me thinking. I mean, I'm in the middle of reading a YA novel that blends genres. It has threads of journalism, along with nubby nubbins of true crime drama. Thinking about blending genres got me thinking about why I read... and why all writers need to read.
It fills the well
Of course, if you read something crappy, it might inspire you to make your lines really sing. I recommend you read poetic prose. Novels with plots so engaging, your butt has a permanent crease line because you've been stuck on the edge of your seat for 378 pages... and you're gonna mourn when you finish it because it's. Just. That. Good. Subliminally, we become better writers as we read wonderful writing.
It solves problems
writing avoiding writing a manuscript about Emmett Till. It's gone through several iterations. It's a contemporary novel, set long after Till was tortured and then killed. Reading Hollow Fires has given me an idea of how I can get Emmett into the story in a unique way.
Reading great stuff lets our brain take a break from writing... while still keeping the gray matter semi-engaged. Of course, I could be watching the last season of Ozark instead of reading (which I still haven't done, sodon'ttellmewhathappenedtoRuth) but truly, settling down and reading prose or poetry is better than TV watching or knitting for us as writers...
which leads me to the final reason I'm throwing up to the spirits today:
It's part of the grunt work
Dancers work out. Teachers go to workshops. Boxers tape up their fists (right?). Reading is the pre-writing work writers need to do.
Stephen King, in his primer On Writing, has given us a memoir-instruction book. He said:
Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of beautiful characters, and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy – “I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand” – but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher. Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing – of being flattened, in fact – is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.
Let a good book sweep you away... and then you can work your rear end off trying to write something that sweeps others away.
What book or poem or short story has swept you away? Curious Sioux wants to know.
Sioux--One of the things I enjoy most about summer is that I normally have more time to catch up on my TBR pile1 You are so right in that reading books is essential to our growth as writers. I've been thinking of starting up a virtual book club as an extension of my podcast (where we read true crime books or suspense/thriller/mysteries) because I miss talking about books with others.ReplyDelete
Reading is definitely essential but I always laugh now when someone mentions Grapes of Wrath even if that person is Stephen King. My adorable son read Grapes of Wrath in school and his teacher asked him what he thought of it. "It reminds me a lot of the Walking Dead but, you know, without the zombies."ReplyDelete
Reading in general "fills the well," as you say. But I am much more likely to be inspired if a book or story isn't what I expected.
All good stuff, Sioux, and I'm sure that all my reading from now to when I was just a little school girl, makes me a better writer. But honestly, if I put down my pen and never wrote again, I'd keep reading, just for the sheer joy.ReplyDelete
Renee--I think a virtual true-crime book club is a brilliant idea. It's a way to further engage some of your podcast listeners. And me too. I do more reading in the summer, when I can choose what I read (instead of reading to stay ahead of my students and their reading).ReplyDelete
Sue--I hope your son's teacher (inwardly, at least) chuckled. I too enjoy twists and turns and the unexpected.
Cathy--I completely agree. The pleasure of reading continues, even when my pen has (temporarily?) dried up. Books have snagged me in their web ever since I read "Charlotte's Web"... and I am still hooked.
She told him no then thought about it, then asked him what he meant. She finally conceded his point but told him he had to finish the book.