Saturday, January 12, 2008

how i learned to write (and from who)

one of the fallacies that i constantly encounter is the belief held by the general population that writing - especially the kind i do - must be not just fun, but easy. most of the times it's fun. only on the rarest of days is it ever easy.

many people seem to think that the writer - especially an accomplished writer -must surely have but to sit at the keyboard, stare at the screen and watch the words flow. a few tweaks here, a few edits there, and voila - in a few weeks or months, you have a book.

nothing could be further from the truth, at least for me.

it's true, certainly, that there are days the words do flow - but on rereading, most of what's flowed out usually has to be mopped up and flushed away. there are days when the characters sing, when they hound and pester and wont shut up. but they hardly ever do that sequentially and they certainly dont do it in WORDS. they give me pictures, scraps of emotions and sensations, needs and wants and desires. they SHOW me the story - they don't tell it.

the work of translating the movie in my head onto words on a page is the Work. and anyone who tries it soon discovers that it isn't easy, that words are clumsy things and language has its limits.

writing is both craft and art, and while the art may be ephemeral and hard to explain, it is possible to improve one's craft. below is a list of books and writers from whom i have learned as much about the craft of writing as i have enjoyed the art of what they've written, and to which i return again and again.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - i loved this book. i walked around the house laughing my head off and then cried buckets at the end. if i ever write half a book half this good, i will die a happy woman.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - kingsolver's uses of point of view and first person narration are absolutely amazing. for a writer, this book is worth reading just to see how each narrator has a wholly unique voice.
Anything by Jane Austen - for the uses of nuance, and the telling detail, there's no one like Jane.
The Da Vinci Code - by Dan Brown. the best example of breakneck pacing i've ever read.
Everything - by William Shakespeare. much of what i know about language, about cadence, about flow - not to mention character and conflict - i learned by reading the plays of the Master. i dont care if the glover from stratford really wrote them or not. SOMEONE did.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

1 comment:

Stacie said...

i know what you mean about translating the movie into words. my mind is full of flashes of scenes, but often when i go to write them, they fall flat. thank you for the insight into your writing. if it is anything like the writing on your blog, i'm sure it's captivating! i think it's time i read one of your books. which one would you suggest?