Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First read, then write


by Rebecca Cantrell


Where did I learn to write?

By reading. Reading. And then some more reading. When I was a kid I read a novel just about every day, and I miss having the time to do that. Now I’m
lucky if I get one novel finished a week. But I’m glad I did it before I had a kid and got a job and
started working as a writer, because all that reading taught me about story, characters, description, voice,
tone. Everything.

Formal education helped. I studied creative writing in college. It was one of my triple majors. After that I took courses in the craft afterward in the evenings and at conferences.


Learning on my own has been essential too. I am still trying to learn more. Every day I try to push the boundaries of what I think I know and find new ways to tell stories. Remember iDrakula? That was a wonderful experiment in how to tell a story using only a fraction of my regular writing tools. Today I’ve been thinking about the nature of evil and the evil characters in my books, and if they’re not too Lawful Evil and not enough Chaotic Evil and why that might be. If I figure it out, that’ll help my writing. If I don’t, the time I spent thinking about it, will also help my writing.

Paid work gave me a new perspective. From technical writing I learned how to communicate clearly and efficiently, how to write to a deadline, and how to research the tiniest details because they are always more important than you think (especially when documenting things that can kill people if used incorrectly!). I also learned to expect to be paid for my work. No one thinks you will write a troubleshooting guide for a multidimensional database without someone ponying up some bucks. That taught me that words have value.

But, really, it’s mostly about the reading.

Happy reading!

14 comments:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Amen to this, Rebecca. I learn as much from books I don't like as I do from books I love. And I know immediately when I'm in the middle of a book that will make me a better writer.

Meredith Cole said...

Ahh... Those days when I could read a book a day! You've made me all nostalgic. And it's so true--reading is an essential part of learning to write.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Sue Ann! And I agree about learning a lot even from books I don't like. If I had my druthers, I think I'd sit in a cave and read and write and eat chocolate.

Oh wait, I practically do that NOW. :)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Meredith!

Weren't those days and days of all day reading wonderful? Now I only get that a few days a YEAR. One of the downsides of growing up, I guess.

donna agalanti said...

Rebecca, thanks for laying this out as my background is the same. I hadn't thought to categorize it like this as a learning path. And how I wish I could sit and read a novel a day again too! I find that is the hardest thing to find time for - reading. I need to keep doing it as a writer but it seems like I'm "goofing off" when I do read - I guess I should look at is now as part of my work, "research" for writing more books.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Donna!

I think reading is legitimate research and I hereby declare it to be guilt-free!

Michael Wiley said...

A great post, Rebecca. I sometimes think that a great creative writing course would be one in which students were told to keep their own fingers off of the keyboard but to read, read, and read again (seeing what other writers have done well . . . or poorly).

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Michael,

I love that idea!

Donald Davis said...

May I ask, do you feel that includes listening to audiobooks or do you need to see the written word to benefit from it?

forensics4fiction said...

I totally agree Rebecca! Like Sue Ann I seem to learn many lessons from books I dislike as well as the ones I cherish. Thanks for sharing!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Donald, I think listening to audiobooks can be very useful too. I read all my work aloud so I can hear how it sounds, which is like listening to an audiobook, except with an annoying person pausing it and muttering all the time.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for stopping by forensics4fiction!

PW.Creighton said...

So very true. While there is 'nothing new under the sun' it's our own insight that makes every story, every project unique. Our perceptions are wholly unique to us .

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Well said, PW!