Wednesday, March 6, 2019

To Read Or Not To Read: For Me There Is No Question

By Eleanor Shelton 

I assume that all of us writers enjoy reading. Maybe it was reading that provoked the idea that we could do this too. I didn’t like to read when I was a kid. I have dyslexia and reading was a frustrating chore. I’ve overcome dyslexia’s worst side effects and even though I read slowly, I’m addicted. 

At any given time, I have one book I read during the day (usually non-fiction such as memoir, or a writing craft book), and one at night, almost always fiction. I have several on deck and at least two on hold at my local library. 

I never fall asleep, no matter how tired I am, without reading and often wake up with an open book on my chest. I keep a list of all the books I finish each year, hoping to read more this year than I did the year before.

Do you read while you're writing?

The other interesting conversation that writers have is whether they read while they are working on their own project, be it fiction or nonfiction. Some say they never read while in the bowels of a project. They don’t want another’s voice in their head while they are concentrating on perfecting their own.

Others say they read, but only work that is diametrically opposite to what they are working on so they don't sully their inspiration.

I couldn’t imagine not reading whatever I wanted. But while I’m working I make a point of reading well-reviewed books in the same genre as mine, or novels that are spectacularly written. 

Why would I spend my time reading badly written books when I can do that myself?  No, I search out examples of great literature. Works where the language sings, the tension stays taut and the characters could jump off the page and right into my living room.  

  • I purposely read above my writing level.     I learn new words. The characters I am currently creating would never use words such as “cuspate” or “sprats” but someday one of my characters might.

  • I study sentence and paragraph structures that stop me cold. What was it that spoke to me and why? How can I try and recreate that structure in my own work?

  •    How did that story inject emotional resonance? Was it word choices? Storyline development? Author choice in explaining or choosing not to explain?

 Here are some of the books that I've read lately that have inspired me to up my game. 

 Less (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize): A NovelAsymmetry: A NovelEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel

These books all inspired me to try harder, slow down, think creatively, and choose just the right details. There is a difference between imitation and inspiration. As we read (and surely we do!) use great published writing as a teacher and writing coach of what is possible in literature.  

1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

I have no problem reading books in any genre at the same time I'm writing. And also like you, I'm usually reading a novel and something non-fiction during any one day. I'd probably suffer from withdrawal symptoms if I tried to stop reading while working on my own projects. I'm glad you mentioned some books that have inspired you to work on your craft. I need to do more of that (and just added your recommendations to my "Want to Read" list.

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