On reading: the one thing all writers do 1

‘Beginning writers,’ says Tom Bailey, ‘must read (note that I mean must, a word I have studiously avoided throughout this book – reading is the one thing all writers do!).’ But what should you read? This video introduces some reading suggestions for writers. Below the video you’ll find a link to a big list of some of anglophonic fiction’s big names.

Suggested reading list


Video transcript follows below:

You’ll hear all sort of quick fixes designed to improve your writing.  People will tell you to write after lying still in a dark room, meditating or repairing a machine; they’ll advise you to envision a snow globe or write in the bath tub; I’ve heard it said that a person’s creativity will be stimulated if she writes with a vacuum cleaner in proximity or leaves the shower running.  Truth is there’s no quick fix when it comes to a writer’s apprenticeship.  Writing has to be studied and learned over years.

And the best training for writing is reading. ‘Beginning writers,’ says Tom Bailey, ‘must read (note that I mean must, a word I have studiously avoided throughout this book – reading is the one thing all writers do!).’  Now, you will either enjoy this or you won’t and either way you will feel dissatisfied.  If you don’t like reading then you’ll feel bored, and maybe you’ll need to question whether writing’s the right path for you to pursue. If you do like reading then you’ll feel guilty for enjoying yourself when you should be writing.  In that case, remember William Safire’s advice: ‘Never feel guilty about reading.  That’s what you do.’

I think you should do two types of reading. Of course you should read widely in the genre you write. If you want to write steampunk, you need to read steampunk. If you want to write historical romance, you need to read historical romance. Chances are, you already read the sort of books you want to write, because that’s where your passion lies.

But I think you should also do another type of reading. I think you should set yourself a standard of excellence to which you should aim to adhere regardless of the genre you write. By that I mean you should read those writers who are considered the best in terms of the standard of their prose – those writers whose writing is eulogised in the New York Times or the Times Literary Supplement.

It’s pretty easy to say who the best tennis players in the world are, but it’s very hard to say who the best writers are. Ultimately, it’s a matter of opinion and taste, and we all have different writers who we love and hate. What we can say, perhaps, is that there are certain writers who – rightly or wrongly – have been recognised as excellent by the literary establishment.

So what I’ve done is to compile a list of some writers who’ve been lauded by the establishment in recent decades. These are authors who’ve won or been shortlisted for major literary prizes. Now, I think some of them are geniuses and some of them are awful bores who’ve got their celebrity through nepotism, cronyism, and the lazy conservatism of an undiscerning literary establishment. And of course there are many thousands of writers not on this list who are as good or better than the folks listed here.

Nevertheless, if you’re struggling for who to read as an example of quality writing – a standard you can aspire to – then you could do a lot worse than go down your local library or second hand bookshop, or do an online search, and pick out some titles written by these authors. You can find the list by clicking this link: Suggested reading list.

Thanks for watching and good luck with your writing.

The cover image for this video is a photo taken by Paul Bence and it is covered by a Creative Commons license. You can find his blog here: http://facesoflondon2006.blogspot.co.uk/

One comment

  1. Pingback: Five tips for studying Creative Writing « Online writing tips .com

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