Friday, 16 December 2011

The Importance of Reading. In Writing.

No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.

When studying music at college, I was taught how to use one of those big mixing desks you find in recording studios. I learned how to make things sound better: how to make a kick drum sound sharper; how to pan sounds to give it a more spread-out, stereo effect; how to put reverberation on the vocals, to enhance their voice. Why do you think so many people love to sing in the shower? Good old acoustics.

Anyways, learning all those things changed the way I listened to music.

For every song I listened to, I couldn't help but notice the "gated" effect of the drums, or the duplication of vocals, amongst other production techniques. I couldn't figure out whether this new found, heightened awareness enhanced or detracted from my enjoyment of music. It doesn't matter now; that era of my life was so long ago, I hardly notice these things anymore. I've just about returned to the world of the average listener.

The reason I mention all this, is that it appears I'm going through the same thing with reading fiction.

I’ve been reading voraciously since I completed NaNoWriMo. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve spent more time reading than writing this last fortnight. Reading and analysing. I'm happy with this; I’m confident that reading will make me a better writer. I don’t understand the mentality of writers who say they don’t read books; do you?

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to read a book the same way again. I’ve been picking up on all sorts of things: how other writers switch scenes (some do it in the same chapter, some use a chapter per POV), how other writers deal with certain situations without making it look too contrived, and how well they manage to build tension, to entice me as a reader.  It's a writing skill I'm very interested in honing!

I've always immensley enjoyed reading, but it's different now. Now, I find myself wondering how the author developed the story, and I have a new, deeper respect for writers because of it!
I have no intention of returning to the world of the regular reader. And I don’t feel it has hampered my enjoyment of fiction. Quite the reverse, in fact! 

This must be what it’s like for wine connoisseurs. They appreciate a decent wine once they’ve educated themselves a bit more.

That's all good and well, but we know a wine connoisseur can’t solely educate themselves by drinking lots of wine (although I’m sure they might try!), and in the same vein I know I can’t educate myself on writing, by only reading lots of books. I have to write, and plan and detail and organise. Then write some more.

My current draft feels more like a 50,028 word outline at this point. Yes, it’s got the backbone of my story in it, but I’m confident that I will rewrite every single word of it. I hope to make a start on that during the Xmas holidays (oh, sweet release).

In the meantime, I’ve been a major spreadsheet geek. I didn’t use any of my fancy NaNoWriMo spreadsheets during November, which taught me Lesson No. 1 in writing a novel: My lovingly prepared spreadsheets have no place in the first draft. I shall post about my wee spreadsheet in more detail next time, lest I waffle on just now.

I'd love to know your thoughts on the benefits of reading, as a writer. Do you have any specific (fiction) books that influence, or spur you on to write? I know there are millions of books on how to write fiction, but I'm starting to feel I'd get a better writing education by reading works of fiction I enjoy and figuring out what it is about those books that work for me!

On a separate note, I discovered last week that the practice of putting two spaces after a full stop was obsolete. I'm gutted! I keep having to correct my spacings after every sentence now. Why, goddamnit, why?




Anonymous said...

Haha - I also have to try to stop myself putting two spaces after full stops! And I also found I didn't use many of my planning materials (not that I had that much to start with) during nano. The one thing I did use was a single-sided sheet of paper on which I'd typed out my main sections in order. (It ended up being about a paragraph for each couple of chapters.)

I absolutely agree about reading fiction. Something I'm not sure I do enough of. I do read fiction, but over the last fews years, I've probably read slightly more non-fiction. I want to read more of the well-regarded books in my genres and there are certainly several whose style has influenced mine.

Interestingly I was reading a novel over the weekend which had won the Whitbread first novel award. It was beautfully observed, but so depressing! It reinforced in my mind that I want to write stories that have humour (however dark) and a kind of rugged persistence to overcome what life throws at you - rather than a lot of moping :-) Which I guess sums up my attitude to life.

Daniel Swensen said...

Great post, and I agree. It's hard to see craft in writing until you start examining it from within.

Catherine Noble said...

@nowondiversion: Thanks for your comment! It's great to hear how reading affects writers; you even managed to gleam a sense of direction from reading a book that depressed you: that's what I like to hear! :)

@Daniel: Thank you :) craft is something I'm desperate to hone, so if reading can help me along the way, I'm glad of it! :)

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