Veronique Darwin

Reading to Write

In Literature, Thoughts on Writing on June 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm

It makes sense that to write well you have to read well. I read often; I don’t know that I read well. I read to get to the end of books, I read to flag good lines, I read to feel something, so I read fast and I read all-consumingly.

It has come to my attention that I am doing it wrong. I should read to understand my own writing.

As I write, the words and the sentences come to me quickly. The shape of the story doesn’t come as easily. I’ve spent over a year now with my story, but jaw-dropping things will happen frequently throughout my day; my book will call out for enormous, ground-breaking changes to which I will acquiesce with a simple, enlightened, “Oh.”

My book speaks to me in its voice, but not its plot structure. I’m not a chemist. I’m not a calculus major. I am a wordsmith; I smith words. I pile them and rearrange them like this will make a story. Then I try to vocalize the story’s main problem in words (and not written words), and all is lost.

Where is my plot? Can I find it in the books I am currently reading? Can Home by Toni Morrison, and The Outcast by Sadie Jones and Charming Billy by Alice McDermott tell me something about Jillian’s story? Or should I go back to Hemingway. Should I dissect books that have moved me?

I hate it, I hate the structure. But I know it makes the book. I know I read quickly, unstoppably, because I want to get to the end of the story, not the melody of the last line. But how do people do it, the story thing?

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  1. Reading becomes a source of study when you’re a writer; you do it unconsciously. You start looking for good things to implement into your work and you spot potential pitfalls. Learning from others is part of the craft.

    • Thank you for your comment, Joe. I agree/hope the learning is subconscious. Do you find you read only the genre of books that you write? I find I gain a lot from reading outside of my genre too. I suppose it helps me see writing in a new light, with different aspects of writing highlighted. For example, I don’t write fantasy, but reading it does help me integrate some of the beautiful things fantasy books do into my writing. But as you say, this is most likely a subconscious exercise.

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