Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reading and Writing

I read 1-3 fiction books a week, depending on my schedule, length of book, and author -- 'cause let's face it, some authors' styles read faster than others. I'm normally a one-book-at-a-time type of gal, but this year have taken to working my way through a couple of writing books in addition to my usual reading fare.

I started off in late Feb/early March with Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES: Freeing the Writer Within. I confess, I've had the book a few years (used book store steal!), but what finally prompted me to open it was an upcoming reading by the author at a local bookstore. I think most writers are familiar with Goldberg's name, whether they've actually read her or not. Despite being one of the most literate and literary cities in the country, we rarely get high-calibre (recognizable) authors here. Too many writers tend to stick to the coasts and thumb their noses at the country's midsection. So, when I saw Natalie Goldberg was scheduled to appear, I decided it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, but wanted to actually read something by her first. So...I started BONES.

And wondered why I hadn't read it years earlier!

What I like most about BONES is the short chapters that allow you to read one a day or several, depending on your mood or the amount of time for reading. It's also the sort of book you can go back to again and again, randomly opening to any chapter. I liked that the structure allowed me to take my time with it. As a journaler, I sometimes found myself writing several pages in response to something read in BONES, or simply copying lines that resonated with me. Sometimes what I wrote had nothing to do with what I'd read, but I found the book inspired me to write more in general.

Now I've moved on to the next in her writing series, WILD MIND: Living the Writer's Life. Again, the structure allows for reading one chapter or many, as time permits, but this one also offers random writing exercises. It's one of two writing books I've decided to work through this summer. And, as an interesting coincidence of fate, Monday morning's chapter on "style" mentioned Japanese poet Issa, who wrote over 20,000 haiku in his time. That evening I was reading through email and who should be mentioned in The Writer's Almanac for that day? Kobayashi Issa! Turns out he was born on June 15, 1763. Given the odd coincidence I felt compelled to look up some of his work online, but not much of it resonated with me. I'm sure it loses much in translation.

The other writing book I'm reading is CREATIVE JOURNAL WRITING: The Art and Heart of Reflection by Stephanie Dowrick. Much like Goldberg's books, the structure is such that you can read one short chapter at a time, or several, and there are occasional exercises. As recommended in the prologue, I am working my way through at a leisurely pace, noting passages I like, doing exercises as they grab my attention, or following whatever tangent a subject takes my mind down. I'm trying to alternate between Dowrick and Goldberg, so there really is no conflict as some might think. Both books are more inspirational/encouraging than how-to books, the latter of which tend to turn some people off.

Since reading BONES and starting these other two books, I've found myself doing more writing. Maybe not novel-length, but you never know what might serve as a catalyst for that next story or poem or article. What I write may not always be in relation to what I've just read, though some chapters/subjects have served as jumping off points, but what is important is that reading these books is stirring my creativity and getting the pen moving more.

And that is definitely a good thing!

1 comment:

colleen said...

I loved both Goldberg's books mentioned here and also Cracking Open the Writer's Craft. I think that was the name.