Reading about writing

13 07 2007

I’ve begun to read about writing. I suppose “begun” isn’t the right word. I’ve spent a lot of time as a student, especially as a grad student, reading about writing, but this is slightly different. As a writer, I’m starting to read about writing. I’m reading a bit each day as part of my writing routine, as part of the schedule or writerly discipline I’ve imposed on myself. That sounds quite harsh, I suppose, but the whole idea is to help me approach things in a more structure way since I’m more productive.

I’ve begun my reading about writing with Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. I must admit she had me right near the beginning with this passage:

“Only once did my passion for reading steer me in the wrong direction, and what was when I let it persuade me to go to graduate school. There, I soon realized that my love for books was unshared by many of my classmates and professors. I found it hard to understand what they did love, exactly, and this gave me an anxious shiver that would later seem like a warning about what would happen to the teaching of literature over the decade or so after I dropped out of my Ph.D. program. That was when literary academia split into warring camps of deconstructionists, Marxists, feminists, and so forth, all battling for the right to tell students that they were reading ‘texts’ in which ideas and politics trumped what the writer had actually written.” (p.8)

Talk about having me at hello. Prose summarized so perfectly how I had felt stepping into the world of graduate studies and I felt from the first a kindred kind of spirit and that has continued as I’ve moved further and further into the story. I’ve been reading a little every day, making notes. I’m up to the chapter on “Narrative” and again the little light-bulb is going off in my head. I struggled a great deal with the voice and perspective of my novel. It’s divided in two parts. The first half I had no problem with. I knew precisely who was telling that story and how. The second half, though, proved very problematic. I began with a third person point of view. That didn’t work, it didn’t seem close enough. Then I went to a first person point of view and found that even more problematic. I wanted the reader to be in his mind, but at the same time I didn’t feel that it worked with being as close as the first person point of view seemed to take it. Complicating that is parts of his story told through a confession. I finally went back to a third person point of view, but I still found it problematic. I found it so troublesome that I just gave up on it for awhile. I just could not have anything to do with it – it proved that upsetting. I then had a little break through and what I see now – based on Prose’s book – is that I hadn’t had a problem with who was telling the story, but rather who was listening, and why was this story being told. Once I realized who my second narrator was addressing and why everything feel into place for that half of the story.

It also made the writing more simple and that’s something I’ve really been working hard on since reading The Book Thief. I’m much more pleased with the re-writing I’ve done in that second half because it is so much simpler and now going back to the first half again I feel a bit overwhelmed with getting it to that same point, but it can be done. I have faith – which is good since that’s what the whole book is about. The danger and necessity of faith.

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