Reading to Write

So, it’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in pursuit of literary perfection must be an avid reader. Correct?

Well, responses differ. Generally, if you read a lot, and if you love reading, you typically have a better concept of structure, dialogue etc. Unless you’re reading bad books. Being constantly open to something means you’re likely to be affected by it. My only problem is that I start to imitate whatever I’m reading in my own work, so the narrative voice and style starts to suffer. So generally, I don’t read whilst I’m in the writing stage. Once I’ve taken a break, or I’m onto editing. Then it’s all good.

Books are a great way to get out of your own head, your own fiction and remember what you’re aiming for – a story that brings people into your world, and invites them to stay there for a few hundred pages.

Now, onto the concept of books on writing. There must be hundreds out there, how to write, how to get published, how to be famous, how to edit. Absolutely everything. And I don’t trust a one of them.

Sometimes, I really want one of these books, just to let me feel I’m staying in touch with the craft. But when wandering around my local Waterstones a few days ago, I have to admit, I was almost offended by the books on writing there. They were all telling me basic things I already knew. I may not be published, or have a book deal, but I do know about writing. Most of those ‘How to’ books just made me feel irritated and angry that some poor would-be writer could spend ten quid on a book that tells you ‘editing is important’ and ‘what a character arc is’.

There is so much advice out there, from all different sources. Here’s some in the Guardian from a variety of different writers, most of which contradicts itself.

The only books I trust concerning writing are:

Stephen King- On Writing

(I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read any of his books, but the man knows his craft. And his number one rule, which I agree with completely, is ‘be wary of adverbs, they are the devil’)

The Writer’s and Artist’s Handbook

These are great, not only offering all the info you could ever need concerning agents, publishers and magazines, but have great articles by people in the biz. Just a shame you generally have to buy a new one every year. They have a very thorough website that’s worth playing around on.

Now, there is a new book coming out that I am eagerly awaiting. It’s called The Art of Writing Fiction by Andrew Cowan. I had the great pleasure of being taught by Andrew Cowan when I did the Creative Writing BA at UEA, and I’m really pleased he’s collected his wisdom in book form. He was a great tutor, and always seems to be able to sift through the pretentious writings of teenagers to find the hidden point of it all.

The best thing he taught me was that my story should be guided by my character’s motivations and personalities, not by where I wanted the story to go. Characters should be people, walking through their own lives, not marionettes that you’re forcing into unnatural positions. Also, the point of dialogue is the actual voice, not the subtext. (I have a bit of a penchant for subtext).

So, I will be ordering my copy when it’s released sometime this month, and until then I’ll be revisiting Mr King. Because yes, being a writer is about writing. But never forget that it’s a craft, and it should be respected like any other. Making something is about determination, inspiration and love. So learning all about your craft falls into the love category, I think.

Happy Writing (and reading!)