On Reading and Learning

Recently, my progress on my novel-in-progress, could be measured in words rather than pages. Weeks have gone by without opening the file. Days have found the file open, and me changing a word or two in a sentence before closing it, and leaving my desk. In total, I've managed about five hundred words, which actually sounds better than the reality of two pages.

I've been: 'stuck in the middle' with no clue where to go next in the novel's progression, not sure whether I'm writing a murder mystery or women's lit, sucked into the drama of an ultimately aborted house purchase that left me wondering whether I should buy, rent, or just try a new town, battered by a non-progressing job search, and overcome by a general sense of fear and loathing about my ability to complete anything successfully. Especially, a novel.

The impact of this general malaise on my reading habits has been documented in a recent post. But then I was saved from absolute despair by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Because the literary heavens must be smiling on me, yesterday I finished listening to the audiobook version of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, a superb book that had me laughing out loud and close to tears, an interesting feat to accomplish while driving.

As my own novel, and my inability but nagging desire to write, has been on my mind, both novels provided inspiration and instruction on what makes a well-written book work. From Guernsey, I learned that a story can have several enchanting sub-plots, each contributing while providing delightful diversions to the ultimate journey. From Tractors, I learned that dialogue can flow as naturally as real conversation to bring characters to life instead of functioning only to advance the plot. 

Now I am reading The School of Essential Ingredients. I was nearly one hundred pages into this book before it captured my interest, now I am completely under its spell. And the writing lesson I am being taught is how rich descriptive language can create a sensory atmosphere that draws you into the story as completely if you'd received an illustrated text.

The most interesting part of this experience is that it is the first time that I have consciously learned about the writing process from simply reading a good book. Of course, I have enjoyed the pleasure of reading a finely written novel in the past, and more often than not been close to tears wishing I could write as beautifully as the author. I have even on rare occasion dipped into a book on writing technique, although my ability to follow instruction was often short-lived. So this experience of closing the cover of a book and realizing that I'd not only savored the story, but learned something that I could aspire toward in my own writing, was a revelation.

Today I opened my novel's file and wrote another page and thought of another scene for the next chapter. I still don't know where I'm going figuratively or literally (in writing or in life). But at least today I took one step forward. And that was very satisfying because eventually all of these words will add up to a completed work.

Now, my fellow writers: how has reading helped your writing process?


larramiefg said…
I've been wondering what you've been up to, guess it's a bit of "lost in translation." Hang in there!
Keetha said…
Sometimes after I read an especially good book, I go back and re-read it, see if I can take it apart and understand what made it so stinking good.

I super love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

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