“Read, read, read! Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You’ll absorb it. Write. If it is good you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”
*Faulkner’s Advice to Writers
I’m a book junkie. I’m always reading at least three at a time: my own (for revisions), a spiritual book (for the revision of my soul), and a book in the genre I write (historical fiction.)
I have to. I can’t help myself. I’m addicted and obsessed. From paper books to ebooks, magazines to newspapers, blogs and devotionals, I can’t get enough words. I need words like nourishment, exercise, breathing.
Time and again, I find authors asking for recommendations of the best craft and style books for writing, and I reply with the old standby’s ON WRITING, BIRD BY BIRD, etc. But really, the best reading a writer can do is of popular, contemporary works in his or her own genre. Reading these books skillfully demonstrates technique in action. How did the writer start the action? How did the author weave in backstory, setting, the central problem of the story? How is figurative language used? Is the theme clear? How are chapters started and ended? What is the format of the book? The point of view?
These are all tremendously important questions and textbook answers can be found in some of the best craft workbooks on the market, but there’s nothing like experience to best teach lessons. Experience these elements of style embedded in the fiction and they will become more of a natural, organic part of your process than any workbook checklist.
My friend, Michael Neff, at Algonkian Novel Workshops (which I give my highest endorsement) recommended that writers physically write long passages from our favorite authors as a tactile way to experience the kind of prose we want to create. I’ve found this exercise extremely helpful, in addition to being a somewhat therapeutic way to interact with words away from the blinking cursor on the screen.
How about you? What are some of the most important books you’ve read to your writing process? Are manuals on craft and style the most helpful to your writing, or is fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations.
*Photo courtesy of Elements Of Persuasion at DeviantArt.com.
*Quote from thisrecording.com