Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FAQ - Reading While Writing

Q: Could you talk a bit about what you read during the time you are writing your novel. (Assuming you do read!)    If so, do you read fiction or non-fiction or both?   

A:  Oh, yes, I read, even when I'm in the midst of writing a novel.  Mostly while I'm drinking coffee after lunch or just before going to sleep. But I'm careful not to read authors whose style or subject matter is similar to mine for fear of unconscious plagiarism.

This means that I have to avoid two of my favorite authors -- Lee Smith and Sharyn McCrumb, along with any number of Southern and Appalachian writers.
And I almost never start a new novel  for fear of not being able to put it down and get back to my own work.  So I reread old favorites -- ones that I almost know by heart -- Elizabeth Goudge, P.G. Wodehouse, Angela Thirkell -- all Brits and all set in the first half of the last century.

A book of Caribbean short stories would work too

Q: HOW do you read? (analytically, critically, or merely for relaxation)?  

A:  I almost never read critically or analytically (except for my own stuff or students' work in my writing classes.)  I read very, very fast and for fun. But I have
noticed that when I listen to a book, I pay closer attention to its structure -- particularly  if it's one I've listened to before. 

All the  Aubrey/Maturin books ( by Patrick O'Brian and read by Patrick Tull) are wonderful examples of the sort of writing I'd like to do. Though I'm listening while driving . . . or ironing or working in the kitchen, I'm always learning something new about good writing.
Q:What about books on technique?  Any titles you'd particularly recommend?
Chris Roerden's book is the textbook I use in my writing classes and as a check list for my own work. I think it's the most helpful book I've encountered for a nuts and bolts approach to fiction. I don't always agree with Chris -- she hate prologues and I like them -- but I skim through this little book at least once a year.

Stephen King's On Writing and Elizabeth George's  Write Away! come to mind as writing books I've read and enjoyed. Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg are especially good for inspiration.  

But I haven't found the book that can substitute for just sitting down and writing, day after day.  That's how you learn, in the end.



Catalyst said...

Good advice, Vicki. Years . . no, decades ago, I read some advice on writing. The author said it's a simple rule: place ass on chair in front of typewriter! Of course, now it would be "keyboard" but the principle remains the same.

Folkways Note Book said...

Good advice and recommendations -- thanks -- barbara

Poetry24 said...

I agree, Vicki. Like any craft, writing has to be learned. Most established authors will sing from the same songsheet. The playwright, Alan Bleasdale, once advised me, 'backside on chair, fingers on keys. And write something, because ideas only get read after you've written them down'.

Miss_Yves said...

I love your librairy, so broad and confortable !The timber used is very cheerful.
During my holidays, I read Updike's books-father and son-

Brian Miller said...

nice. like the list of books...i like bird by bird and on writing...will check a few of those others out...really enjoy this getting into your writers mind...

Louise said...

Nice insight into the writer's world. Thank you.

Helen T said...

Of all the photos you've posted of your home, I love the pic of the den. Such a lovely room. May I ask - to the left of the sailboat there are two shelves of reddish-brown books. What are those?

NCmountainwoman said...

I somehow expected you to read British mysteries and humor, although I have no idea why I should think that. I also love Lee Smith and I do think the two of you have similar styles. I've never read Sharyn McCrumb, but will definitely pick up one of her books.

I enjoy the insight into the workings of a writer.

Suz said...

I guess you have found that the hardest thing for people to do is sit down and write
but it's as old as dirt
writer's write
and read
good advice

Tess Kincaid said...

Fascinating stuff, Vicki. Great advice. Your place looks so cozy. Perfect tranquil setting for writing.

Tammy said...

Love the first picture. I'm afraid I shamelessly enlarged the pictures to see what titles you have on your shelves. The who room looks so warm and inviting..a great place to relax with a good book. Not sure I've read any of Lee Smith's work...will have to check it out.

jennyfreckles said...

That looks such a cosy room, I may well fall asleep on that big sofa - no reading or writing for me!

Vicki Lane said...

Catalyst and Martin -- Elizabeth George calls is 'bum glue' and, yes, it's the first and greatest commandment.

Miss Yves -- I've always been a fan of John Updike's work.

Brian -- I'm open to questions for this FAQ series of posts.

Helen -- The pic is of our living room/main room and the books are an old set of The Harvard Classics which belonged to John's father. I rarely look into them as the print is small. And I have a lot of what they cover duplicated in single books.

I'm embarrassed to sat that the main reason they're there (when I have books piled in closets for want of shelves -in spite of the fact that we have bookshelves in almost every room) the reason, I say, is that they provide a really nice back drop for that white horse which is one of my favorite things.

Mountainwoman -- SHE WALKS THESE HILLS is my favorite McCrumb title.

Tammy -- FAIR AND TENDER LADIES is my favorite Lee Smith book.

And those shelves are just a part of the whole. In our bedroom are autographed books that I don't want to lend oot, in the hall by the guest room are mysteries and recent acquisitions; in my work room are my old favorites, books for research about western NC, and books on quilting and painting and writing; John's room has lots of political and ecological nonfiction, along with biographies and how to books; the loft room above our living room has children's books, gardening books, books about other places, and a lot of books from my grandmother's youth.

Yes, we live in a kind of library.

Tipper said...

Another great peek into your writing style : )

Elora said...

Thanks so much, Vicki! My husband was very pleased you listed Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander series among your favorites!

One of my writing favorites is called Becoming a Writer by Dorthea Brande. I discovered her book years ago and re-read it periodically. It ws originally published in 1934. I LOVE this book! It addresses some of the obstacles we encounter whether seasoned or novice fiction writers...There is a chapter on using one's sub-conscious mind, which I found particularly engaging. So, if that's your living room....may I be so bold as to ask where is the TV you don't watch but John does? :-))


Deanna said...

This was a very interesting post with interesting tid bits of information. Thanks!

Vicki Lane said...

Elora, the TV is beneath the bookshelves, behind the second set of doors from the right. John swings that rocking chair around to watch.

Friko said...

This pieces of advice are very useful, Vicki. it is always interesting to learn how writers write.
As you say, in the end there is no substitute for actually sitting down and putting words on paper.