Guest post: Read Like a Writer – Kathleen Shoop
I’m delighted to welcome Kathleen Shoop to the blog today! Kathleen is the author of bestselling novel The Last Letter. Her newest release is After the Fog – you can read my review here.
Read Like a Writer – Kathleen Shoop
Everyone knows writing is a solitary endeavor. I love the time spent alone, the time with characters, plots and events that live only through print and in my head. But, there’s another part of me that’s social and highly collaborative. Luckily I have ways to attend to both parts of my existence.
For example, one of the ways I’ve become a social writer is through colleagues and mentors. These people offer a social connection to my craft. One opportunity for this is through writing co-ops. I belong to Madhu Wangu’s meditative writing group. We meditate for 30 minutes and then write for hours in each other’s company. Lunch follows writing. There are no cell-phones or chatting about kids during the meditation and writing segments. The talk that follows is constructive and collaborative; we celebrate breakthroughs in manuscripts and solve problems that remain. Just being in the company of others while writing can propel me through a tough drafting spot. Though writing remains solitary at its heart, this group feels supportive and it satisfies that yearning for a social experience.
Then there are my very famous teachers. Francine Prose, Sara Gruen, and Elizabeth Strout have all helped me grow as a writer. No, they don’t phone in their feedback or join me for coffee after reading my drafts, but they are with me. Reading extensively as a writer is central to a writer’s growth. I know we barely have enough time to get words down on paper, but for me, I had major breakthroughs once I took seriously this idea of learning from the masters.
When I first started writing, I was afraid to read in my genre for fear I’d copy the authors I admire. Now I realize, that’s impossible. Francine Prose was especially important in this development for me. Her book, “Reading like a Writer: A guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them,” is full of examples of how literature works in a multitude of ways. She shows how the giants of literature sometimes break rules, that following the “you musts and you shoulds” can amputate the essence of your writing and remove the part that is unique. She might not have sent an email saying just that, but that’s what I got from her loud and clear.
Through Prose I discovered what I’m looking for in the books I read in my genre is not something that will accidentally rub off on me. Rather, it is found in the purposeful way they place objects in character’s hands and express language in a way that is solely theirs. In more fully studying others, I found my voice. I found it was impossible to copy theirs if I was studying just the right things.
Now I’ve found, not everyone likes my voice, the cadence of my prose, or any number of things that make it mine. But, what I’ve developed and released into the world is truly mine and that is the greatest gift a writer can give herself. So thanks to all my friends, famous or not, I write with you in the room, always. I am not alone at all.
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