Reading Like a Writer (instead of an undergrad)

NaNoWriMo comes to a close on Wednesday and I’ll be honest, I’m tired. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to push ahead. Get the word count. Quick. Get a novel out NOW. While I definitely think there is a time and place for that kind of intensity (and I can see why the challenge is only one month long), there is a need to balance that kind of intensity and take a deep breath, recenter, and simply slow down.

I’m currently reading Read Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those That Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. My reading for today made me chuckle because it advises me to go against the speed at which I have been operating this past month. Prose urges writers to SLOWLY read and to carefully consider the words and meaning writers are attempting to communicate. Why did they choose the description they did? How does that influence how we perceive that character? How do we as writers, in turn, respond to those decisions? 

High school and college courses never encourage the thoughtful exploration of literature. It’s all about speed to make sure you can check off a title in the literary canon and complete your well roundedness (I guess?). We are conditioned to read for plot points and ideas, as well as devices (like symbolism and imagery) in order to survive classroom discussion. Prose asserts that reading for those larger points “can be a hindrance when the crucial revelations are in the spaces between words, in what has been left out.” 

I’ll admit that I’m struggling through Joyce Carol Oats’ We Were the Mulvaneys and I believe it’s because I have been treating it like an undergrad. I’ve been skimming and trying to get from one big idea to the next. I’m losing interest, yes. But more than that, I am doing myself a disservice to see how she communicates through the words she has meticulously chosen and how that narrative comes together. So, I’m actually going to back up in that story and do what Prose suggests:

Slow down. Analyze. Understand.


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