Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday's Writing on Writing...

Check back here every Wednesday for a few thoughts on the craft. Here are today's:

Reading While Writing

Whenever I’m on deadline, I like to be reading another book at the same time. It’s seldom a novel, as I look for something wholly aside from what I’m immersed in writing. The reading allows an escape from the 24-hour-a-day obsession with my own story without throwing me off track.

Once I read Into Thin Air, the account of an ill-fated Everest ascent. Another time I read The Endurance, the fascinating story of a legendary Antarctic expedition.

While writing Armageddon in the Left Behind series, I re-read Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel. The subtitle is “The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them.”

The cover refers to Sol (right) as “a successful editor, novelist, and award-winning teacher of writers” and to the book as “a workshop in book form.”

Having been to one of Sol’s fiction weekends, I found the description apt. Only because I found him so accessible in person am I brazen enough to call by his first name a man twenty years my senior.

A few years ago the Modern Library convened a panel to name the best nonfiction books of the 20th Century. Two books Sol edited made the list. But he is more known for his nine novels and the countless others he has edited.

Examples of stuff I learned reading Stein:

— “In the early stages of developing a story, it pays to root the story in an experience that was an emotional marker in your life.”

— “Some writers suffer while writing. I regret their pain, and am glad to report that as one masters the craft, the pain ebbs, and the pleasure of being able to control the result can bring the second-greatest pleasure of life, the creation of text that arouses the emotions of distant readers.”

— “The engine of fiction is somebody wanting something and going out to get it. And if you let him get it right away, you’re killing the story. He can’t get it because a mountain or a man is in the way, nature and human nature in opposition to achievement. Without that opposition,
fiction is a vehicle without an engine.”

— “You can begin with a flash fire in the kitchen that endangers the entire house (melodrama), or you put a pot on the boil, bubbling and simmering, as you show your characters acting in a situation that is slowly alarming, a conflict developing into the big event that will hold the reader curious, concerned, perhaps even enthralled, gripped as if glued to your story for its duration.”

Writers must be readers, so read something good while writing your next project.

2 comments:

mrpond47 said...

Wow. Brilliant. I think I should get a copy of that book.

Recently, when I'm on deadline I become obsessed with watching Dr. Who...

Faith Imagined said...

I'm going to have to reread each qoute. They each contain a lot of girth to digest!

Every time I think I'm getting better as a writer, I look up and see I still have so far to go. At least the adventure is a thrill!