Monday, February 15, 2010

On Reading On Writing

I've been enjoying the past couple of weeks of breathing after finishing a draft of Alex Van Helsing #2, and I've been spending my time mostly in reading.  This reading has been all over the place: classics, short stories, new young adult, even an unpublished manuscript.

The great thing about reading is it allows new ideas to percolate, an idea will bubble up and I'll either jot it down or even just knock it aside, not now, reading. Like the ideas are jabbering students around my desk, waiting for me to look up at them.

I've even been reading a fair amount of "writing on writing," especially Stephen King's On Writing, which is about one-fifth memoir and four-fifths writing instruction, and of course it's full of inspiration, if you're like me and the most inspiring thing you can hear is something wonderfully practical. King gives great advice, like making sure to keep to your own vocabulary. Likewise Orson Scott Card, who wrote a whole series on writing.

I read a lot of writing books, and the main thing I get out of that is that one writing book, like a drink for a drunk, would be too many. One writing book and you've got one person's advice, and that advice might work for Card or King, but a hard-and-fast Card rule might not work for you, and how would you know to think that if you had just that one? One is too many. Two is never enough: once I start reading people's tricks, I want to read everyone's. Not that I'll use half of it, but I take a great joy in seeing how writers approach their craft.

What advice applies to me? is the question that keeps repeating itself, and the answer is: whatever feels right. You have to have a sense of self and give yourself permission to build a synthesis of all of that wisdom.

The lazy statement people like to make is nobody knows anything, a kind of zen koan that means that you'll hear a lot of conflicting advice. But I tell you: you will know more if you listen to what everyone doesn't know and then sift through for yourself than if you never listen at all.

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