Tag Archives: writing advice

Learn From the Pros – Read Like a Writer (Not A Reader)

quotables button When I teach literature I always tell them, these would-be writers (we don’t do workshops, we just read great books), I say, “When you read Pride and Prejudice, don’t if you’re a girl identify with Elizabeth Bennet, if you’re a boy with Darcy. Identify with the author, not with the characters.” All good readers do that automatically, but I think it’s helpful to make that clear. Your affinity is not with the characters, always with the writer. You should always be asking yourself, if you want to become an expert reader or perhaps a writer, you should always say, “How is this being achieved?” “How is this scene being managed?” “How is this being brought off?” Because the characters are artifacts. They’re not real people with real destinies and I know that feeling, when you’re reading Pride and Prejudice even for the fourth time, you feel definite anxiety about whether they’re going to get married, even though you know perfectly well that they do. There’s a slight sort of, “Come on, kiss her!”

Martin Amis

Writers are generally told to do two things – write and read. But here is lovely advice from Martin Amis (whose work I’ve never read, and who I don’t know much about, but whose advice here is spot on). There is a difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer. I’ve always done both, but if I want to learn why some books are classics, I should do more of the latter.

Because there are so many lively, witty young women in romance novels, and yet Elizabeth Bennett stands above them all. How does Jane Austen make us care about her? It’s easy just to straight-up identify with what Elizabeth is feeling, and more difficult to dig through the layers and figure out how the writing helps you identify with her.

So – something to keep in mind next time you read!

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The Pleasures of Not Writing

by Paul Fischer. {PD}

by Paul Fischer. {PD}

“The pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again”

—John Updike.

This quote grabbed me because it is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately – I’ve managed to keep writing a fair amount, but each step is a momentous struggle of motivation.

This isn’t uncommon for writers, I don’t think. Every once in a while it just seems far easier to quit trying to pour out your soul on paper. And everything else starts to look more attractive than staring at a blank page – going out with friends who called you up at the last moment, reading someone else’s blog, or going outside to lie in the sunshine (now that winter is over). And I firmly resist always giving in to these temptations, because if I let all these attractive things have their way every time they pop up, my time for writing will slowly evaporate.

But what John Updike writes is both true and not true. Not writing is terribly attractive, and entirely possible if you let the demands of life take over your attempts at writing. But so far in my life, I keep coming back to writing, over and over, despite having giving it up in despair many times.

That is why I call myself a writer (or, one of the many reason I do, anyway). Why would I keep coming back to it if there wasn’t something inside me that drove me to writing? Giving it up could be so simple, and yet I have never done it.

Still, this quote drives home the point that writing takes discipline. Many people call themselves ‘writers’ because they have a book in their head, but they’ve never actually put a pen to paper. I could continue to call myself a writer, and let my inner writing drive drive me to throw a paragraph down once in a while.

But to produce actual writing that other people want to read, and find useful or interesting or thought-provoking, takes discipline. The discipline to keep going, word after word, until you have just thewriting quote right amount of words to convey the idea you want to get across. Then the discipline, to re-write, edit, re-think, and struggle until that idea comes through crystal-clear. And then the discipline to keep throwing that chunk of writing to places where other people will see it, and to hunt down publishers and promoters until you reach the audience you wrote it for. And this discipline is what many writers struggle with. Writing is a journey in self-motivation, after all.

So keep up that struggle, writers! There are enough non-writers out there already. And for those of you out there who are readers, I’m sure you’re glad, in the same way I am, that so many great writers didn’t give in to the pleasure of not writing.

Writers – have you ever been tempted towards not writing? Readers – which book are you really glad an author managed to motivate his or herself to churn out?

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