[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Reading to be a Writer

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

God knows I want to write more. This blog has been virtually haunting me everyday to do so.

Of late, I have been reading more and practically stopped writing. Except, of course, writing at work. Which doesn’t count in my books as the same writing in this blog.

Perhaps it was the haunting or an intuitive attraction to certain books, I have been heads down reading books about writing. Two of them I highly recommend for anyone, who first wants to read good books, and second, have tender hopes to write – even if its in private.

As it usually happens, I stumbled upon during my usual wanderings in the library, a fantastic book by Francine Prose’s “Reading Like a Writer” (A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them). I ended up overwhelmingly proud of myself for finding this book, rather serendipitously, that I just ordered a used copy of this book to own for life. She dissects some of her favorite books and authors on how they have chosen and written certain words, sentences, characters and story lines. Prose, herself a versatile writer, takes a back seat as a humble reader, to bring to light some of the fascinating writings across English literature. I, for one, have not even heard of most of the writers she mentions. That’s a blessing and curse. Why Curse? May be that’s harsh, but I curse myself because I don’t have the breadth of reading to know many of them. Every writer she brings forth is typically an accomplished person, but one must be a omnivorous (I picked up that word from her book!) reader to have come across all of these authors. Why Blessing? Indeed, because now I know who I can read if I ever run out of books to read. But, hold on, running out of books to read? that ain’t happening baby!

The second book is one I own and go back to every so often. Especially when the demon in me occasionally shows up in deep sleep, only to remind me that all I can do is read, read and just read even more but can’t get my ass to write more! I have previously written about William Zinsser. His most popular book, On Writing Well, is worth every dollar (though you can buy a used one for pennies!) not so much for writing instructions but to be a constant reminder that simple writing and especially writing well, is absolutely doable, be it painful. See, Zinsser is not one of the greatest writers, but he is one of the common, but good writers who exactly reinforces my confidence that I can be one too. If you are interested, Zinsser writes a weekly blog, “Zinsser on Friday”.

I want to write, simply for the purpose of expressing myself in a simple yet coherent way. Besides, as both Zissner and Prose constantly remind throughout these two books, writing well is all about rewriting. It’s not about writing more. It’s not about writing with fashionable and Shakespearean words. It’s about writing and rewriting and immersing ourselves in the pleasure of toying with simple words and sentences, literally crafting it, to get the point across in its most economical, smooth and simplest way.

On the other hand, Prose’s book at times made me wonder how in the world could someone come up with such fantastic writing. She brings to our attention writings by Samuel Johnson, that is so good to the extent of wiping off all my confidence that even I can craft great sentences. I mean, seriously, Samuel Johnson must have been a genius, if he naturally had the flair for such writing.

Here is a glimpse into fantastically crafted paragraph from The Life of Savage, By Samuel Johnson

It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe.

To be clear, I didn’t completely understand the entire meaning in one pass. I must have read it a few times before I digested his point. Perhaps, I am not used to this type of sophisticated 20th century writing, but, every time I read, I pause on certain places, just to wonder about what must have gone through his mind when he wrote those words – “splendour of their rank”. To imagine writers of past have hand written or typed all their writings is unfathomable. I am only glad I didn’t have to hand write my writings – would absolutely end up with no hope for any aspirations to be writer.