Hello Blogger friends. :D
As many of you already know, school is out and that means (theoretically ;D) lots and lots of time in which to write and to catch up on my reading. I have a very large pile of books right now that I was supposed to have read during the school year, and of course I didn't have time to finish most of them… or to even start more than half of them. I was excited the first day after finals because, even though I'm looking for a summer job and training to be a writing consultant at my school, summer vacation was officially before me and I would have TIME… lots and lots of TIME!
But soon after that, I put down the book that I was in the middle of reading and picked up one that I had already read. I can't even explain why. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has done this in the past, but it rather felt like I just needed to read a different writing style… a CERTAIN TYPE of different writing style, to be exact.
The book I picked up is titled "The Elfstones of Shanara" written by Terry Brooks, and I had first finished reading it several years ago and hadn't tried to read through it since. (Note: Mr. Brooks' works are definitely not Christian, but I'm not overly bias about that as long as the non-Christian books I read don't step too far over a certain line.) Mr. Brooks writes in third person limited for the most part, slipping in and out of third person omniscient on occasion, and he uses a narrative voice (I believe). His works have been compared to Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" in the past, though it is my opinion that Tolkien's style is more lyrical and light while as Mr. Brooks' style is slightly more… "heavy", if that makes any sense. Mr. Brooks' books have also been acclaimed for their strong and visual prose; he is certainly a good writer (even if his books come close at times to overstepping that line I've set in my head…) He is most definitely a writer I admire, even if he is not my exactly my "favorite".
So as I was reading his book the other day, I started paying attention to every time a passage inspired me or evoked my imagination. If I read something that brought beautiful scenery to the forefront of my mind, then I took note of the passage and how I had noticed it and what it inspired. (I didn't actually write down any of this stuff… I just took a mental note and paused a moment to reflect on it.) If I read something that evoked a sense of dread in the center of my being, I did the same thing. In doing this, I started to ponder what it is that sets "the writer" apart from "the reader". It's not exactly easy to draw the line between the two, because writers are often readers at the same time.
In order to define what is my "writing self" and what is my "reading self", I started to take mental notes of each time I read something that affected me, and then which side of me it affected. That means that every time I noticed a repetitive word, or a typo (there weren't many), or repeated information, or took a note on how character #1 reacted to character #1 for future reference, I filed the incident away in a mental filing cabinet under "Writing". And every time I caught myself reading a scene that seemed so vivid as to be alive in my mind, or found myself getting really caught up in the characters or settings, I filed it away under "reading". Doing this doesn't separate the two "me's"… I couldn't do that if I wanted to. I am both a writer and a reader at the same time, and trying to actually separate the one from the other would be like ripping me in half. What it does do, however, is help me to define the line between what makes me one thing and what makes me the other thing so that I at least can get a clear picture of myself in the end, and can understand the elements that make up that picture.
Sort of like a mirror image, if you really think about it. Both the real me and the image of me are "me". They both show me for who I really am. They both reveal my flaws and my attributes. But they are also both different… one is all of me, while one is just a reflection.
Yeah, that's a good metaphor. Trying to define what makes me one thing (a writer) vs. what makes me the other thing (a reader) is sort of like two mirror images of me. The writer is one image, and the reader is the other image. Only in this metaphorical world, if you put the two mirror images of me together, you get the real me. J
(And this blog post is, of course, being filed away in my little mental filing cabinet under "writing". I mean, only a writer would try to analyze the difference between the two word-loving personalities, right? :D)
This starting me thinking yet again. You see, I respect Terry Brooks as a writer and as a published author. And my respect for him stems from both my writing and my reading side. So that got me wondering, just what DOES capture a writer's respect in the literary world? Is it publication? (I think that for many writers that is, indeed, a small part of the respect gained). Is it the ability of the author's book to turn off the writer's analyzing mind so that the writer just enjoys the reading simply for the fact that it's reading?
This is, of course, another hard question to tackle. And it wasn't easy to come up with an answer, because if you are a writer, then everything you learn about writing you automatically subconsciously apply to what you are reading. You look for mistakes, and you look for good ideas, and you are aware of things such as "plot" and "character" and "grammar" and "spelling" and "typos" and "double meanings" and "character growth" and "sub-plots" and "Technique". You know about them because you've been studying them and applying them to your own writings in the hopes that one day your book will be in the hands of a reader who is just as eager for the written word as you are.
The difference, however, between you and that future eager reader is that that future eager reader might not also be a writer. They might just be a person who likes to read books.
The writer's job is to ask what the reader wants; what will make the reader interested and keep them interested. However, I think that many writers are often too caught up in "writing" and they forget what really makes a book seem interesting to readers.
Now don't get me wrong here. Writing for other writers is important too. And writing to the very best of our abilities is one of the most important things a writer can strive for (which is why we have our WIPs checked by other writers). But just think about it for a moment. Go back to the time in your life before you knew you were going to write a novel… before you were aware of just how powerful words could be, and how you could manipulate characters and foresee events. Go back to before you cared that much about brainstorming, back to when (if you were like me) you hated outlining of any kind because it made no sense to you, and when you would read a book just to say that you had read it… back before you even had a favorite genre.
I can still remember what it was like. I remember the types of books I liked to read. I also remember that I would read just about anything I could get my hands on. Back then, I didn't read books to analyze how another writer created a character trait, or figured out how to work in twisting subplots, or search for grammatical errors and prose genius. I just read because I loved to read, and I loved the fact that it was possible for me to catch a glimpse of another world in someone else's words. I didn't start writing because I cared for all the technical stuff; I started writing because I admired how words could create. I didn't care about typos and grammar in the beginning, and my spelling was a far cry from readable.
Rereading "The Elfstones of Shanara" helped me recall what reading used to be like for me, because I had read the book in a time before I fully understood that I was a writer. Reading over the chapters and pages, I remember passages that I admired just because they sounded beautiful, and passages that I liked because of the action and the movement. Now, as a fully realized aspiring author who has erred much, learned much, and is still learning, I can go back through the book and understand WHY those passages sounded so beautiful or so sinister, and why the action flowed and moved.
So that is my answer to the question. I believe that what makes a writer really respect another writer, admire them, and look up to them is the "why". And also "How".
As a writer now, I can look at a book and not just love a passage because of the prose, but also because I understand why those word choices were used and how they affect the paragraph and the story… how they will affect the reader. I can also understand why and how those word choices will affect me. As a writer, I can really appreciate the effort put into a full-fledged, published book. I understand the sweat and frustration and emotion and longing and hurt and pain and tears and ecstasy that are poured into each and every page. That is what truly gains my respect.
There are, of course, other things that I look for in writers and books… other aspects of the art that heighten my respect and draw me farther into the glorious and various universes derived from the written word. But those will have to wait for another post. In the mean time, have any of you ever wondered about the differences between what makes you a writer and what makes you a reader? Or perhaps you've pondered the ability of another writer to draw you into their words and hold you captive there? Tell me what you've learned about these subjects, and how it's affected you. I'd love to hear about it! :D