Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing A01

Share |

Now, gentle readers we take a brief sojourn from our contemplation of inspirational quotes on the art of writing. We’re gonna do something else instead. In the next few blogs I will share helpful hints on the topic of Everything I Know About How To Write. Obviously, this will be a very short series.
I don't claim to be an expert on how to write, but over the past decade plus that I've been writing full-time, I have certainly learned a thing or two. Which, for twelve or so years of constant study is not too bad.
Please keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the management. Heck, they may not even be my own in another half hour. You just never know.
Helpful Hint #1: “You are what you read.”
It’s my observation that people who write are also people who read. In fact, I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t read all the time. At least, I have yet to meet a decent writer who does not do this. I have met a few people who don’t read but who fancy they would like to be writers and who might even write but my contention is, in fact I would bet my fluffy Piglet light-up pen on it (And I really like my fluffy Piglet light-up pen) that scratch a good or even half-way competent writer and 99.9 times you’ll annoy them. You’ll also find a reader.
I attribute the existence of people who don’t read but who fancy being a writer and who may even sometimes write as having something to do with the belief that writers are people who think Big And Important Thoughts. This is such a predominant theory that even people who have read Rosemary Rodgers and John Grisham still think it. They expect that writers are as wise as their work. Which shows they know nothing about writers.
At any rate, I contend that, almost without exception, those who write and who write well also read. Further, I submit that these same people will write whatever they read.
This means that if you’re a huge fan of poetry, can’t get enough of it, have a poster of Stan Dragland on your wall and a copy of Adrienne Riche stuffed under your pillow (personally, I’d do it the other way round… but that’s just me) then chances are you’re not going to be turning out epic historical romance novels. Unless of course, you also read a lot of epic historical romance novels.
Similarly, if you read mainly mysteries or true crime or theology, then that’s what you’re going to be driven to write. I know that as I say this, it sounds obvious. After all, writing is for the most part onerous, discouraging, difficult work. Who among us would have the fortitude, nay the pig-headed stupidity, to toil in the trenches of a genre they weren’t hopelessly and completely in love with?
Think about what you read. If it's not the kind of sweeping Gothic epic novel you fancy yourself born to write, but you've memorized every word of "Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul" (and who hasn't?), then perhaps you need to consider where your heart truly lies and what’s keeping you from committing to what you do love.
OK, next point about “You are what your read.” Reading is like food. If you eat trash you’ll write…well, you might write perfectly wonderfully, at least I hope so because I seem to be making it my personal mission lately to purge the world of all unwanted fruit cake. And, Hostess Ho Hos. But, if you read trash, chances are you’ll write trash.
This is why a person who gets a degree in creative writing may not ultimately be a better writer than someone who spends the same time taking English and studying fine literature. Or someone who just reads wonderful writing. Just as the way to improve in tennis is to play someone better than yourself or the way to become a better skier is to hit the slopes with someone whose skill level pushes you to go further or… OK, I’m out of sports metaphors, but the point is that reading the very best writers in the world and reading them often is going to make you a better writer yourself. It’s not all that it will take to make you better and we'll discuss what those other things might be in upcoming blogs. But I’m convinced that immersing yourself in truly wonderful prose or poetry goes a long way toward learning what works and what does not and why.
“You are what you read.” And this is a good thing, I think. Because what we read tells us a lot about the natural inclination of our soul and this is helpful to know in writing or in the rest of life. In fact, instead of asking someone their zodiac sign or their Myers Briggs number or their LSAT result, if you want to know a person, or yourself, take a look at what books are on their shelf, Particularly, what they love best. Writing and dating tips in one blog. Where else can you get this kind of service?
Next time in our series on Helpful Tips About Writing: “Size Totally Matters.” Stay tuned.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Anne Hines

Anne Hines is the author of three novels, Fishing Up the Moon (Pedlar Press, 1998), The Spiral Garden (McArthur & Co, 2005) and Come Away: song of songs (McArthur & Co., 2007) and one collection of nonfiction humour, A Year In HineSight (McArthur & Co, 2002). A series of essays, Parting Gifts: notes on loss, love and life is due for publication by McArthur & Co, fall 2008.

Go to Anne Hines’s Author Page