The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Novel Ideas

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If there’s one area where I’m consistently falling short as a writer, it’s reading.  There was a big push regarding reading at Northwestern–we read our butts off regardless of what class we were in.  No complaints there–that’s how it should be.  This isn’t to say that I don’t read now, because I actually read quite a bit.  I’ve read The New Yorker for a number of years now (the nonfiction, especially, and most of the fiction in the past two years or so).  I subscribe to The Writer’s Almanac at the behest of a few coworkers, so I’m exercising my poetry skills on an almost daily basis.  But I don’t read novels, and that’s a glaring shortfall.

Here’s the problem:  Novels are too damn long and take too much time to finish.  I’ve read 3 in the last year (and one was a reread), but they were all within or in close proximity to a vacation when I had a good amount of time to read. Otherwise, they take a huge portion of time that could otherwise be spent reading other stuff that is pushed back because of reading a novel, and they take even more time away from writing.  Thusly, I’ve been pretty content to not read many novels the last few years.  This despite how most every writer regardless of mode or genre will tell you how important it is that you are constantly reading the work of other writers because you learn about the craft by reading masters of the craft.  Also, reading like a writer is different than “normal” reading–you’re always looking at structure, point of view, the development of characters and settings…  the list is endless (and a big one for me recently is Symbolism).  It  feels like work rather than pleasure more times than not, and I’ve never been totally sold on the idea that I need to be consuming novels with as much regularity as I consume short fiction, literary journalism, memoir, and verse.

Here’s another problem:  I’m wrong. I’m full of shit, and I know it.  I’ve been willing to subordinate reading novels because I’ve clung so tightly to the ideals delineated above.  But a month ago, a few trusted coworkers suggested in a lunch table discussion that I should read some John Irving.  I had made one feeble half-attempt at A Prayer for Owen Meany some years ago, but had otherwise dismissed Irving.  They both have read most of Irving, and the occasional discussions of his work got me to asking what Irving I should read if I were to read only one (again, trying to minimize my involvement with reading novels).  Almost simultaneously, they said The Cider House Rules.  Deciding this would be a jaunty little venture, I loaded it on my Nook and slowly started to wade into it.

Still another problem:  I’m reading The Cider House Rules like a writer.  It’s work.  It takes longer than reading “for pleasure,” which I’m not even sure I can do anymore–and I’m not sure I want to do it very much.  All those other writers who insist that you always be reading, especially novels, are exactly right, and I’m feeling bashful at having poo-pooed their advice for so long now.  It matters quite a bit that I’m working on a piece of fiction right now, and I’m in way over my head with it.  Watching what a master craftsman does with his stories makes a huge difference in what I try to do with mine.

to be continued…  

Written by seeker70

July 3, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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