Reading does help

19 September 2011

For anyone who has ever studied creative writing, this will sound familiar: you have to read in order to be able to write. Blindingly obvious, isn’t it? But as with many of the old saws issuing forth from writing classes, I’ve always struggled with understanding exactly what it means, or rather, in the application.

I’m one of those people who gets told, at least once a year, that I should really read Flaubert. As if the professor can just take a Flaubert bandage and apply it to my literary aches and pains. I’ve read my Flaubert and it didn’t help.

But I felt that I’d been over-doing it with the non-fiction lately; something just wasn’t working out properly when I opened Heather’s document up. The sentences weren’t flowing, the words were small and uninteresting – a very base vocabulary was in play. And then I went to the library and forced myself to visit the fiction section. I decided I would like to read some Margaret Atwood. She is one of Canada’s finest; I felt she might help.

I used to have a strong dislike of Ms Atwood. I read The Handmaid’s Tale at the wrong time. It didn’t click for me, in fact, I found all the feminist talk in class (yes, it was for a class) incredibly off-putting. I wanted to talk about the story, how it worked, what was going on there, and everybody else wanted to draw grandiose conclusions about the world at large. Anyhow, this time around, I got Oryx and Crake. And it was quite funny. The language is also quite funny.

But the important thing is, I finally saw the proof for the whole read to improve your own writing thing.