Saturday, 15 February 2014

How is my reading?

Dear all,

This is a tricky one for me to answer. I’m not reading enough, I can say that for a start but I’m not totally unhappy. I am reading something every day and as someone who always finds fault in the amount of work I do anyway, I can admit that although it isn’t enough, it’s going okay. I’m finding it difficult to maintain concentration for a few reasons.

The apartment’s lobby (1)
The first being that as much as I enjoy reading (and rediscovering the enjoyment of it) I am really putting pressure on myself to write and it’s not easy to switch off for a good length of time. I find that as soon as I have made myself comfortable and found my page, my mind plays the ever-ready guilt trip card and I doubt myself about whether this is time well spent. Then after a few minutes of internal wrangles and battles I convince myself that yes, it is time very well spent and that aside from the enjoyment of it, I am learning a lot too…but I have to re-answer that and re-assure myself every ten minutes so settling down to read is harder than before.
Something to remind me I should be studying…something to remind me of what the word ‘research’ means…something to remind me of home…and something to remind me that I have no idea what I am doing and just bow down in front of the master.

Another reason is that as soon as I do settle and get through a few pages or a chapter, I have the urge to write! You may not think that is a bad thing and it’s not really, but it is difficult to make any progress with the books I am reading and in turn I don’t take as much from the writers as I should if I absorbed more of their style and technique. It’s a fantastic inspiration however, I really get excited about creating something as it seems every time I have a protracted period of non-reading I forget how beautiful it is to read, how pleasurable it is, how enlightening it is, how invigorating. So I get this rush of amazement that I am so lucky to be able to enjoy this moment, I guess it is the call of creativity or the pleasure of ‘making something up’! How wonderful it is to get past the age of a child and be comfortable sitting down and making up stories. So again, it’s not a bad thing, it is just that it causes a lot of stop and starting.
            There is a strange emotion that arises when you read and you have half an eye on writing yourself. I find myself getting awestruck and emboldened simultaneously. The awestruck part comes when you read prose that is so beautifully composed that it is exactly the same feeling you get when you look at powerful art or listen to the music you love. You are moved and touched but also because you are thinking of writing yourself, you are in awe of the writer. You understand why they have the position they have either in the pantheon of the classics or contemporary fame. They are simply great at what they do, possibly untouchable or a genius in your eyes. You can’t imagine creating something as good or even attempting to try. You sit back, or lay down or whatever it is you do when you read (there are some strange types out there…) and allow yourself to be immersed in the skill and beauty of the writer, and that in itself is a huge inspiration to write. However, there is another pull, another calling, another message that comes through. You can do that. I can do that. You start reading and your brain is telling you that you are capable of doing this too. Outside of the 5% of unreachable ‘geniuses’ you read a lot of ‘good’ stuff that seems within your grasp if only you try hard enough and long enough. If you have ever thought this about any art form, any hobby, any sport, anything that you have seen on television, heard on the radio or whatever it may be, you get the sense that hard work can pay off…so just bloody well work hard! You feel relived that you don’t have to be a genius that is somehow blessed from birth with a magical ability delivered from a more highly evolved species of human. So there is a wonderful conflict going on inside you, a test, asking you to both submit to the craft of incredibly talented people you have never met and never will, and to rise to the challenge yourself and try and become the person that other people will enjoy reading and may someday in turn inspire and motivate people. That is why after a few pages of reading I find I want to write but I am both scared by the challenge and irresistibly drawn to it.

Anything catch your eye?
(The pause was to remind me that the summer is coming and to get going on those sit-ups…)

As I blogged about before I left on this trip I loaded my Kindle with more books than I could ever read but I am trying hard to get through a lot of first chapters. I would love to read all of them but I have to manage my time and I want to use the three hundred plus books as an educational tool so I fear not learning from the many unopened books that remain. I think there is a huge amount to be gained from getting at least a taster of different writing styles, methods and techniques, so as much as it is frustration not to make a lot of progress with one individual book (once you get into a story it’s a killer trying to stay away from it) I don’t want to spend a month reading just one book. So my reading is going well in that I am exposing myself to lots of different ‘voices’ and I hope that that goes somewhere to exploring my own style (and of course I have to add the self deprecating disclaimer – IF I have a style! I’m not an expert or professional, this journey is my way of discovering whether I have got what it takes.)
            One aspect of fiction writing that is extremely important is dialogue. I have got a long way to go in developing my ability with creating good dialogue but reading lots is a good way to find what you think works and what doesn’t. As a writer you want to create many different characters all with their own backgrounds and profiles but all with something in common – they are believable. It is so important that it can’t be emphasized enough. I am really looking hard at dialogue over this period in my reading and I hope that I gain an insight into techniques, voice and description that improves my work.
The other issue I am facing, which I have recently blogged about, is that I am trying to learn a bit of Spanish and part of that involves reading Spanish. As much as I am at the start of my journey in writing, I am also at the start of developing my language skills, but as I commented, it really helps with the way I look at fiction. I find myself asking questions about the quality of my grammar and how I use (or not) the craft of writing to stir emotion and create imagery that may or may not use strict grammatical rules to best effect. The mastery of language and how learning Spanish is reminding me of how little I know English and in turn helping me to read with a more demanding eye (but it is very mentally draining too, I feel tired after studying, it’s been a while you know!) I want to test myself on how I would approach something, why I feel a paragraph works or not, what I would change and so on. As part of looking at constructing sentences in another language it has toughened my approach to reading.
The apartment’s lobby (2)
I’ll leave this for now by saying as with most things in everyone’s life the phrase, ‘could try harder’ comes to mind. It all comes down to reading more; if you never stop reading then you never stop learning.


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