Reading About Writing

I’ve had an unexpected amount of time on my hands, these past few weeks. Many projects that I’d been working on had come to fruition all at the same time (editing the re-release of Dirk Vanden’s 1970’s gay classic, The All Trilogy, tweaking the new websites of Cain Berlinger and Helen York, if you’re interested).

So perhaps you’re expecting to hear about all the wonderful new writing projects I embarked upon?

Well, I’d love to let you know all about them…but I was far, far too busy browsing websites that tried to tell me how to write.

In fact, the blog you’re currently reading nearly didn’t happen. My first idea was to create a website purporting to be stuffed full of advice that would make you into a best selling author simply by existing – but actually, on every page, there would be large, stark words: GO AWAY, STOP READING THIS, START WRITING. NOW!!!

That’s my worst habit. Not continually refreshing facebook, not checking and rechecking my email – it’s that cursed StumbleUpon toolbar that sends me lurching from writing site to writing site, reading stuff I already know from people I’ve never heard of, with lists of writing credits shorter than my attention span.

One site will urge you to only ever use “said” in dialogue and another will be drowning in its own verbiage.You will learn how to build a slow scene of description and to plunge the reader into the moment of climax from the first paragraph; you’ll understand the importance of detailed backstory and how to create characters that only ever show, and never tell. Eventually you have to rip the modem out, and just have a go at it. Alone. Not holding the hand of Wikipedia. Not with a lovely Google safety net. Just you and the blank page.

I have learned a lot about writing by reading – not reading about writing, but reading writing. Good writing, bad writing, dull writing – there are lessons in it all (though life is short and I wouldn’t waste too much time reading Dan Brown. I recommend The Da Vinci Code for the good points: pacey chapter structure, gripping thriller – and the bad points: slaughtering everything I love about maths and art, wooden characters, and how the paciness and grippiness get very tedious in their unrelenting onslaught).

It does help to read as a writer, though. It won’t spoil your enjoyment of books, but I highly recommend a book by Francine Prose called Reading Like A Writer. It can get a little wordy and some bits drag but overall I found this a fascinating book and a great alternative to interminable “Write a Best Seller In Two Months Using These Seven Plots” books and articles.

Right. Off to check my email.


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