Trying to be a better writer can sometimes be a pain in the ***. My love to write stems directly from my love for reading. One of the skills that I have learned to help me is to read critically. Before a few years ago this term meant nothing to me, but I tried it, and it makes me a better writer. The thing is, it saps out most of the pleasure I have found in reading. I have tried many things to conteract this, the most succesful being:
1. Alternating the styles from chapter to chapter,
2. Read one book critically and then one for enjoyment.
3. Reading the book first for enjoyment and then reread it critically.
But things are flawed with all of the above styles.
1. It shatter the flow of imagry and confuses me.
2. This is probably the best method I have, but I am very tempted to read the tales that are put together the best, although I would learn a lot more from them than shoddier titles.
3. This is a split compromise, but for some reason it does not seem to help me as much as reading it csritically first. I don't know why though.
So does anyone have any other methods I can try, or does everyone dwell in this pit of learning = bored and fun = not very helpfull. As a side note I will say that I knowplain old reading is helpful. Just not as much as reading critically. Thank you.
July 31st, 2002, 11:49 PM
I can tell you what I do.
The first time I read a book, I do not do it critically. I wait until the book is done and have gotten my "impression" of it (basically, whether I liked it or not). Then I figure out exactly why I did or didn't care for it. Sometimes it's the characters, sometimes it's the plot, sometimes it's the prose, sometimes it's a combination of these that determines my enjoyment. But I do not reread books. If I liked the characters, I sit back and think about why, but do it from memory. If I liked the plot, I figure out the general elements that maintained my interest. If I liked the prose of a book, I will go back and just pick random pages and read them. Often times, after just a couple of excerpts, I realize what it was about the author's style that appealed to me. But I don't actually go all the way through again. I just try to pinpoint what triggered my thumbs-up or thumbs-down reaction in my last-page-is-over-evaluation. And often times, discovering why I did not like a book is just as helpful as uncovering why I did.
But I couldn't imagine reading books with a critical eye the entire way through. Seems like it would suck all the fun out of it.
July 31st, 2002, 11:59 PM
I've actually stopped reading fiction while I'm actively writing, at least during the initial development and first draft. I stick to history and other non-fiction topics that I like, because I find that otherwise my writing style starts meandering off into a semblance of whatever I read last, if it was a book I liked ("Ooh, that was well done; I could do something like that...") It seems to be akin to picking up traces of people's accents when you visit other places/countries...
So I just stockpile the fiction library and read it all for pleasure while I'm re-editing my own work. Then, if I see a technique or an idea that appeals to me, I just make a quick note of it for potential use later on.
August 1st, 2002, 04:36 AM
I do exactly the same Radthorne, although I certainly do not have a published novel under my belt and such praise for my work as yourself!!!
I tend to go through binges, whilst writing I am on a veritable SlimFast Fiction Diet, no carbs and no fiction. When my first draft or Short Story is complete, I'll whip through 10 books in a month, often I am left full to bursting and have to go through a movie or gaming phase.
Stephen King advocates reading all the time. He even listens to audio books in the car. He made a similar statement in his book 'On Writing' as you Shef, that to be a writer you have to love reading and they are inextricably linked. It's all a craft and reading widely in all genres is an important part of learning your craft.
I like the accent analogy and have the same problem. If a writing style appeals to me I find I pick up on it in my own writing style. The best solution in MHO is to thrash out a quick short story. By the end of it, you have come to grips with the influence, assimilated it and you find you have enhanced your own craft rather than alter it completely. Just re-read your short stories you have completed over the years and you will see how you have evolved, taking on board the best bits you pick up from your favourite authors and making a conscious effort to avoid the humdingers!!!
:) Didn't mean to rant.
August 1st, 2002, 05:14 AM
I never read critrically as such. I do however try to absorb as much of a book as I can as I'm reading. I try to pick up better ways of describing, techniques, good words I don't normally use etc. Also I try to find errors as I'm reading. Thankfully none of this dulls my enjoyment; it only serves to help my writing.
August 1st, 2002, 01:52 PM
My sentiments are similar to Radthorne's. When I am writing, I do not read anything other than newspapers and mags or other non-fiction pieces of interest. I have found that I do tend to read everything critically when I am writing, and I am hyper aware of technique and style. So, it is safer and better for me not to read. SInce I have been writing non stop for the past four years, I unfortunately have read very little in the way of novels. As soon as I finish a manuscript, I dash out to B & N and buy a couple of books and read them into all hours of the night and I wake up bleary eyed and tired for weeks. But, the writing bug always takes precedence, and I start on the next book way sooner than I ever plan.
To address your original question; in the past, before I was writing constantly, I read purely for enjoyment, and reading was one of my major sources of pleasure - I loved to read. I was a very accepting reader, and i felt that it was my failure if I could not finish a book. I enjoyed so many authors and I read all the time. Unfortunately, as with actors and movies for me, I rarely even remembered the author or the titles, but I always remembered the characters who impressed me. It would have been hard for me to read critically because I was always so mesmerized by a good story that I just read and read and got lost in the plot and the place and the people.
I suppose I am not a good example for you. Sorry.
August 1st, 2002, 08:02 PM
This is a very interesting thread.
Alucard, I think your technique is very interesting, and sounds like a great idea. It sounds like a good way to combine reflection with enjoyment - being critical without ruining the pleasure of reading. I should try it!
As a bit of a counterpoint to Radthorne et al, there is (or was, I should say) a very well-known Australian historian called Manning Clark, who is known for his wonderful writing (if not always for his complete accuracy). His method was to do his rather intensive research, ie. reading only history, but once that process was complete and he began writing a book or an article, he would read avidly anything with a wonderful style - the classics, poetry, etc. His idea was to take inspiration from beautiful writing and to take on the "accents" encountered so as to improve his own writing style. I always found that a very interesting approach.
But in the end, I suppose you do whatever works for you!
August 2nd, 2002, 02:32 PM
Thank you all for your thoughts and advice. I am leaning towards Alucard's style, but I will heed all that you guys have said. So once again thank you very much.:)
August 6th, 2002, 03:21 AM
I lean more towards Alucard's style myself. :)
Another thing I've found really helpful: my beloved book club. :) I feel blessed with such a group of thoughtful people--it's always nice to see how someone else (whose opinion you trust) feels about character/prose/plot.
August 15th, 2002, 02:32 PM
I have enjoyed reading this thread myself. I generally read a book the first time simply to absorb it and gather a first impression. If I finish the book with a very positive or negative response; I'll spend some time thinking about why. If I really enjoy the book; I'll reread or revisit the sections I thought were so good--try to figure out how its done. I'll start thinking about structure, tone, plot decisions, you know the whole technical thing. To me, rereading is essential to writing as breathing is to being here. I cant imagine writing a story or a poem and saying WOOT! its done after the first draft. I am lucky because I also teach writing and critical thinking. So I often get to examine my favorite pieces with the fresh minds and insights of my students. Overall, I just try to remember that in the end its all about pleasure; I love analyzing and examining texts as much as plowing through a page turner. If analyzing a text is dragging me down; its back to pure pleasure of following the story. It goes in cycles for me; I try to do what feels natural with the particular book I am involved with. Happy Reading!