Thursday, December 31, 2020

2021 New Year's Resolution for Writers: Read

Every new year I make a writing resolution. In past years, I have resolved to begin projects and to finish them. I've resolved to write what I most feared and to get more rejections than C. S. Lewis. (He got 800 before he was published.) To my credit, I have managed to fulfill all my resolutions - even C. S. Lewis' stunning number of rejections. (I've gotten well over a thousand, but that's counting rejections for everything I've written. So I've fudged that resolution a bit.) And I have resolved to stick to my guns in the face of those rejections, and be true to my work.

This year, I am resolving to read. Sometimes writers forget that reading is how we nourish ourselves. It's true that we need to observe to world around us, to think, to ponder. But in order to write we must tackle the task of reading - not just for pleasure, but with the critical eye of a writer.

Who are your favorite authors? If you had to give someone your personal list of the top ten best writers, who would they be? More to the point, why? Did they touch your heart and then break it? Did they write such vivid descriptions that you saw, heard, felt what they were describing? Did they make observations so profound that you viewed the world in a whole new light? Did they give you "aha!" moments? Were some of their phrases so beautiful that you could not continue, but had to stop to read them again and again? Did their beauty make you catch your breath?

Read those books once more. Analyze them. How did those writers create those emotions in you? How exactly? You won't be able to accomplish what those authors managed to do precisely the way they did it, but reading them with a microscope will give you pointers. You will look at words and sentence structure differently. You will begin to sense the rhythm and melody in dialogue. Like music, those cadences will open you up. You will explore language through someone else's inner voice.

What books will I re-read?

The Music Room by Dennis McFarland. I couldn't stop reading this book. McFarland kept my eyes glued to the page. He really gets inside his characters. How does he do it?

Anthony Doerr's Memory Wall. Actually, anything by Anthony Doerr will do. He is a poetic writer. Every word is evaluated, weighed, considered, and reconsidered before it is finally chosen. 

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien. I'm cheating with this one, because I've already started reading it for the first time. But I know I will have to read it again. Her writing style is thoroughly engaging, and she has insightful observations which stop me dead in my tracks.

Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series, starting with Gorky Park. Martin Cruz Smith has the ability to deftly establish a character with a stroke of the pen. He never overstates, which means he is a master of economical language.

David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I don't have Wallace on my "top ten" list, but I will re-read him because his writing style is the exact opposite of mine. I find Wallace's incredibly long sentences liberating. It feels like swimming.

Torch  by Cheryl Strayed is an example of crystal clear writing. You don't feel as if you are reading.

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition is well-worth re-reading. He has the ability to create a world which is familiar, yet isn't. He keeps readers slightly off-balance and then he sucks them right in.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet is Salman Rushdie's best novel. (Don't argue with me.)

 I will re-read Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. Le Guin grabs her readers by their collars and throws them into a story. She creates worlds that are entirely believable.

White Noise by Don DeLillo. This is my favorite 20th-century novel. Honestly, I can't figure out how he did it, but I am going to try.

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