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Writers are still readers

Posted: September 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Column, Editorial | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Maybe it’s the weather or the time of year, but I’ve had two requests for writing advice in the past two days. Here, once again, is my best advice.

 

When asked what advice I would give to writers, I usually say these two things:

1. WRITE

2. READ.

The first bit of advice sounds so simple but is so hard to do. WRITE. It means making a conscious effort to write, if not every day, on some regular schedule. Turn off the TV, close the MSN chat window, get off Facebook and write. Life is so full of distractions and responsibilities that it’s not uncommon to hear writers complain that they can’t find time to write. I, too, am guilty of doing it. Even though one of the things you’ll find when you Google my name is this post on discipline in writing, lately I’ve been making plenty excuses for not buckling down to the half-finished manuscript I began last year. Granted, the book is depressing as hell and drags me back into a personal memory I’d rather ignore–it’s a novel about possible consequences of child sexual abuse–but I have made a committment and I need to attend to it. Plus, it’s a really good story. 🙂 I think the world, especially Trinidad & Tobago, needs this story so people stop ignoring a problem that is right under their noses.

But writing is hard work in some ways, especially writing fiction. I have no publisher yet so there’s no deadline to whip me, and it’s my own project so there’s no editor to nag me. I started the book with Wayne Brown as my writing coach and he would give me weekly deadlines to meet, but he has since passed away and my subsequent attempt to work with the brilliant writer Monique Roffey flopped because I just couldn’t write at the time.

When I’m writing it’s great. There are times when the words fly onto the computer screen all by themselves, the characters sing and dance and take lovers and licks as if they were real people and I were just a cameraman recording the action. There are other times when each word is a struggle. Because it’s set in multiple times, I have to keep other windows open with calendars and research about clothes, food, news events and other stuff that fill out the story. And you can imagine that I sometimes get distracted by children, housekeeping (VERY RARELY! Ha!), hustling and the rest of my life. Sleep is the biggest culprit, though. Why write when you can sleep? Sleep usually wins, even though I know those last eight chapters won’t write themselves.

Maybe I should do like Mystie Thongs and blog on the struggle to get back on my (literary) feet. If I had written a page a day over the last year when I didn’t write anything at all, the book would be done and in third revision by now!

My only consolation is that at least I’m taking my own advice on the other thing writers should do: READ.

I am, as my Facebook friend Adrian Charles called it, an obligate bibliovore. I have to read, and I’m usually reading at least one book. In the last couple months I’ve read Sun Dog, by Monique Roffey, Falling Angels, by Tracy Chevalier, and Dog-Heart, by Diana McCaulay, among others.

Reading increases your vocabulary, improves your technique and widens your repertoir. I have read hundreds of romance novels and–as much as literary types would turn up their noses at the genre–I owe my relatively good grammar to them, and my vocabulary in part to them, too.

Those long-time Mills & Boon books were great for words like “maelstrom” and “ingenue” and so on, and they were written in the strictest Standard English. I read other things, too… sci-fi, poetry, plays, murder mysteries, text books… and everything I read somehow creeps out into my writing, not in direct ways but you can see threads of them if you know what you’re looking for. Plus, reading is fun!

What do you writers do to keep writing?


3 Comments on “Writers are still readers”

  1. 1 Mystie said at 9:36 am on September 11th, 2010:

    That blog i started, i realised after i started it, was also a journey back to writing almost everyday if not everyday for me. Something i used to do via notes on fb, but eventually stopped for all sorts of reasons.
    Usually for me writing stuff is not the issue, writing what i am SUPPOSED to be writing is where i get in trouble. For example i am supposed to write a press release…of course instead i will want to write a note about love and puppies lol! The only thing that works for me though is to get out the note about the love and puppies, and then go write what i am supposed to. It is almost as if i have to clear the block then what needs to come will flow.
    When i am really depressed though, i find it hard to do anything but wallow, but the contradiction there is that only writing will make me feel better…so i wallow till i can write.

    When my brain is tired i read…and watch certain tv shows. Even though they say television rots the brain, for me, i dunno if it is just the age in which i have been raised, but tv inspires me to write. I think it is easy to forget that some of the best writers in the world write scripts for television. If you think about it, a television show has multiple writers working, that is a lot of skill being processed and shown to you…so why not absorb and learn from it. When things are bad writing wise i always turn to grey’s anatomy, or a mystery show like Castle (2009)…or Californification…and i tune into the story being told.

    Good post though Lise…the blog continues good stuff 😉

  2. 2 lise said at 10:00 am on September 11th, 2010:

    Thnx Mystie. Yes, TV is full of writers. It’s one of the points I make in my spiel on The Allen Prize because we need writers in all categories, across the board, including film and television. From a training perspective, however, I wouldn’t encourage TV as an alternative to reading unless you’re researching screenwriting. Watching TV doesn’t hit the same parts of the brain as reading does.

  3. 3 Nicole Henry said at 12:04 pm on September 15th, 2010:

    What keeps me writing is having someone on my butt……my dear bf and soon-to-be fiance(it’s complicated) is my writing/slash nagging police….lol…..or if I have a project with a time and a deadline to complete…..and I am always reading….whether it is on the Net or some good old fashioned books…..


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