Sunday, December 29, 2019

12 Quotations on Learning to Write by Reading

Read! Read! Read! And then read some more. When you find something that thrills you, take it apart paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, to see what made it so wonderful. Then use those tricks the next time you write. That charge to young writers happens to come from novelist W.P. Kinsella, but in fact hes echoing centuries of good advice. Heres how 12 other authors, past and present, have stressed the importance of reading to a writers development. Read, Observe, and PracticeFor a man to write well, there are required three necessaries: to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style.(Ben Jonson, Timber, or Discoveries, 1640)Exercise the MindReading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.(Richard Steele, The Tatler, 1710)Read the BestRead the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.(Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849)Imitate, Then DestroyWriting is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original and by destroying ones first productions.(Attributed to Andrà © Maurois, 1885-1967)Read CriticallyWhen I was teaching writing —  and I still say it —  I taught that the best way to learn to write is by reading. Reading critically, noticing paragraphs that get the job done, how your favorite writers use verbs, all the u seful techniques. A scene catches you? Go back and study it. Find out how it works.(Tony Hillerman, quoted by G. Miki Hayden in Writing the Mystery: A Start-to-Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, 2nd ed. Intrigue Press, 2004)Read EverythingRead everything —  trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! Youll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, youll find out.(William Faulkner, interviewed by Lavon Rascoe for The Western Review, Summer 1951)Read Bad Stuff, TooIf you are going to learn from other writers dont only read the great ones, because if you do that youll get so filled with despair and the fear that youll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did that youll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. Its very encouraging. Hey, I can do so much better than this. Read the greatest stuff but read the stuff that isnt so great, too. Great s tuff is very discouraging.(Edward Albee, quoted by Jon Winokur in Advice to Writers, 1999)Be a Voracious, Loving ReaderWhen you start reading in a certain way, thats already the beginning of your writing. Youre learning what you admire and youre learning to love other writers. The love of other writers is an important first step. To be a voracious, loving reader.(Tess Gallagher, quoted by Nicholas OConnell in At the Fields End: Interviews With 22 Pacific Northwest Writers, rev. ed., 1998)Tap Into the World ConsciousnessToo many writers are trying to write with too shallow an education. Whether they go to college or not is immaterial. Ive met many self-educated people who are much better read than I am. The point is that a writer needs a sense of the history of literature to be successful as a writer, and you need to read some Dickens, some Dostoyevsky, some Melville, and other great classics —  because they are part of our world consciousness, and the good writers tap into the world consciousness when they write.(James Kisner, quoted by William Safire and Leonard Safir in Good Advice on Writing, 1992)Listen, Read, and WriteIf you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe its not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. ... Dogen, a great Zen master, said, If you walk in the mist, you get wet. So just listen, read, and write. Little by little, you will come closer to what you need to say and express it through your voice.(Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, rev ed., 2005)Read a Lot, Write a LotThe real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with ones papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly grow ing knowledge of what has been done and what hasnt, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.  ...[R]ead a lot, write a lot is the great commandment.(Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000)And Have FunRead a lot. Write a lot. Have fun.(Daniel Pinkwater) For more specific suggestions on what to read, visit our reading list: 100 Major Works of Modern Creative Nonfiction.

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