The most confusing and repeated piece of advice that I was given during the years when I sat on the other side of the desk in Creative Writing classes, was to read, lots. Not knowing how to fit more books into my days, I decided that my tutors must mean I should be more selective, so I cut back on the thrillers and romances, and looked out for novels that had literary reputations.
It was an interesting and eclectic period in my reading history. I didn’t mind whether a book was a classic or modern; so long as someone had considered it worth mentioning, I’d give it a try. Once I’d entered the first page of a novel I forgot all about my writing tutors. Well, isn’t that how it should be with a good book?
Of course it is, and that’s fine. But as I closed the covers on one book I was already checking the shelves for my next read. What I hadn’t understood then was that having read for pleasure, I needed to take time to think about what I’d read, and how it worked…or what didn’t work, and why.
Some writers seem to pick that up early. I didn’t get it until I became a mature student, studying Literature and Creative Writing. Since then, my horizons have broadened with every read, whether that’s with a fresh text or one of those that I first read when in that voracious period.
I’m often asked if that doesn’t spoil the fun of reading.
Actually, it opens up a text. Yes, I can often see the workings, but I like that, because it offers another dimension of story to enjoy. I like the process so much that I teach it, and the thing I’ve discovered is that this approach is as rewarding for readers as it is for writers. We get into some fascinating discussions about how writing works.
And most importantly, we share ideas on what a story was about. Think you know something inside out? Give it to a group of readers and then get into a discussion and see what is revealed, I’m continually finding that the exchanging of ideas opens up unexpected worlds beneath the surface of the words.
Thinking about how readers read has to be a useful thing for any writer, surely?