Readers Who Write

writing Reading and writing come hand in hand. I don’t know many readers who don’t like writing, or writers who don’t like reading. I am certainly a reader, but I hesitate to call myself a writer. I took several creative writing classes in college, and while sometimes my reviews are the only things I can complete, I write frequently.

Many writers have written about writing. Ernest Hemingway has a number of melodramatic lines, my favorite of which is his oft-quoted quip, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I am not a particularly blood-sweat-and-tears writer. I have no desire to write poetry or prose ripped from my soul; I just want to write something worth reading.

A good friend of mine from college recently started a blog I’ve really enjoyed reading, called “100,000 Words: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the novel.” She, like me, is an aspiring writer (she has more credentials than I do, though: a degree in Literature. I only pretended to be a Lit major, and instead went the social sciences route). Every writer is different, and one of my favorite things is to do is learn the quirks of each writer’s process: how they name their characters, where they start a story, whether they outline or just go with the flow. My friend Emily’s blog is tracking her own progress and process, which is both similar and different from my own.

One of the greatest struggles I face as a writer is the blank page. As many times as my professors have assigned Anne Lamott’s famous essay, “Shitty First Drafts,” I still have a hard time putting words down until I feel confident about them, and they are in a constant state of revision. I don’t do lots of drafts. This is probably why I am an incredibly unproductive writer: my work in progress has been evolving for months, and it’s still at about 1500 words, an extremely insignificant amount.

There are several other things I know about myself as a writer: I am prone to using present perfect and past perfect verb tenses. I am concise, except when I am a bit convoluted. I tend to hedge slightly, always shying away from firm declaratives. My characters are often named after saints. I’m not very good at grounding my story in its setting, but I think I am pretty great at writing dialogue. I am so afraid of telling (as opposed to showing), that I end up not writing anything at all. And my initial idea or inspiration almost never makes it to the end.

I know many readers of this blog are writers themselves, whether it is of novels, short stories, reviews or essays, both published and unpublished. What is your process? What is your style? And the essential question, that I cannot truly answer: why do you write?

– Jane Granville

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8 Responses to “Readers Who Write”

  1. Rosario says:

    I think I’d draw a distinction between writing and storytelling. I enjoy writing, both reviews on my blog and, at work, the challenge of expressing a highly technical bit of economic analysis in a way that is clear and understandable to the lay reader. Storytelling, on the other hand, I have no interest in. Much as I love reading stories, I don’t want to write them. I’m happy to remain a consumer in that area!

  2. Lilly says:

    I like what Garrison Keillor said: that by the time he got really good at make-believe the other kids had outgrown it, so writing was the outlet. That’s the best explanation I have of why I write.

    One day, after having never written anything longer than a short story, I sat down at my keyboard. Eighteen months later I’d completed (they’re never really finished) a 173,000 word Victorian romance. Some of the writing, especially in the first third, is pretty clunky, but I was inspired by what I was told: write something, because you can’t go back and edit and improve a blank page. This novel remains an active work in progress.

    So then I wrote a 78,000 word steampunk romance in the next four months, and spent two more months editing/revising it. Then I started a medieval (62,000 words in the last two and a half months with maybe 10,000 more to go). I have plot outlines and character work-ups for an off-beat contemporary.

    Somebody help me! : )

  3. dick says:

    I write expository prose; I’ve never attempted fiction. But I do know that until there’s something on paper, nothing else is going to happen. Start.

  4. Moriah Jovan says:

    And the essential question, that I cannot truly answer: why do you write?

    Because I can’t paint.

  5. KristieJ says:

    I consider myself a writer – how good is debatable though *g* – but I prefer short anecdotes. I know for an absolute fact that I don’t have a novel in my so I’ve no aspirations in that area.

    But I do love putting words together and trying to make something that’s funny and makes sense, usually at my own expense.

  6. Emily says:

    First of all, seriously how many times have you read “Shitty First Drafts”?!? It has got to be the most frequently assigned essay in the whole department.

    Second, I LOVE the “writers profile” of yourself that you did there. It’s so important to know ourselves as writers, I think that this idea of self-awareness often gets lost in everything else when we actually sit down to write. Knowing our strengths, weaknesses, and plain old quirks is essential to writing something that other people want to read, because it’s the only thing that allows us to step out of ourselves and look critically at something that we’ve written.

  7. Jane AAR says:

    It’s funny how the biggest challenge for so many people — actually WRITING something down, not just mulling over it in your head — is also the most important part.

    Imagination is another huge part of it. I like that quote from Garrison Keillor– one of the greatest story-tellers I’ve ever heard. I don’t much like Prairie Home Companion (it’s a bit too folksy for me) but Garrison Keillor is an incredible orator and writer.

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