Sunday, July 28, 2013

Good Reading Yields Good Writing

When I started my MFA program (back in 2009 at Vermont College of Fine Arts), I dutifully discussed and compiled and reading list for my first semester.  But secretly I thought: my main job is writing... what's the deal with all this reading!  I thought I would skim whatever my advisor suggested, cobble together my paper, and then get back to the (much more important) manuscript.

But, truth be told, the reading turned out not to be something extra (let alone extraneous) but essential.  Here's how I think of it.

Reading is medicine for the writer.

What ails you?  Weak characterization?  Slow plot?  Wimpy diction?  There's a remedy for that... if you know what to read.

I've been thinking about this lately because I had the change to read Nance Van Winckel's collection of linked short stories, Boneland. (Get it from Amazon HERE.)  Nance was an advisor of mine while I attended VCFA and I have long been impressed by her short stories and poetry (if you ever have the chance to hear her read... do it!  She's a great reader as well as a great writer.)

These stories are wonderful.  Whatever it is you are struggling with in your craft, whatever it is you need a reminder of... this collection is the right prescription.  There is nothing better for a writer than to pick up a wonderful book and think: oh, yes... this is how it should be done!  

There were many craft points that inspired me as I read (though I don't want to overemphasize this because Boneland impresses for other reasons: the stories are captivating!) but I kept being drawn to Nance's metaphors.  What beautiful comparisons.  It made me go back to the manuscript I have been working on and examine what I had done... did I even have metaphors?  Were any of them good?

And that's what, as a writer, I love about reading: it not only entertains me as I get involved in the story but also inspires me to do better in my own craft.

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