Reading and Writing – A Love Affair

Keyboard and Book

Two pieces of advice I hear most often from accomplished authors, when asked by novices like myself how to become a better writer, are 1) read constantly and 2) write something every day.

There is a strong connection between reading and writing. This seems obvious, especially to most writers, as most of us happen to be avid readers as well. Reading for the pure enjoyment of it is a pleasure all its own. And I certainly still do that. However, I have also found that doing a close reading of a text yields a wealth of insight that can be added to my tool-set as a writer. Sometimes I will do two readings of a text–one simply as a reader, enjoying a text, immersing myself in the story, loving and hating the characters, etc., and another as a writer. Reading as a writer is something different than reading as a reader. What I mean by “reading as a writer” is reading and paying close attention to the author’s use of  style, word-choice, language, themes, pacing, dialog, plot points, tropes, story arcs, imagery and a whole slew of other literary elements and devices–all the “magic tricks” of a good writer, or rather, tools of the trade. We learn these by reading, and paying attention to what we are reading, and then practicing on our own. Close reading is fast becoming a lost art in this digital age of click, click, click, short attention spans, and 140 character limit twitter feeds. Yet it is an art I hope to preserve in my own life.

Writing is a craft, a skill. It can be learned. It can be improved upon. It takes practice. It takes effort. So the second point–to write something every day–also makes a lot of sense to me. I have learned enough humility to honestly assess my skill-level as a writer. I have a long way to go. Yet, I keep at it, keep banging away on this keyboard, building my writer’s muscle, practicing what I find useful from those other writers that I admire, exploring on my own, sharing my work with my peers and allowing them to tear it to shreds so that I may come back to this keyboard and try again, and again, and again.

Fantasy and Science Fiction – Lit Class

Fantasy and Science Fiction

As mentioned in a previous post, I am enrolled in the Fantasy and Science Fiction course offered by Professor Eric Rabkin on the Coursera platform.  This is an 11 week course and we are currently closing out our 6th week. The work load is high. For each unit we have selected readings (which often include full-length novels, or sometimes several short stories and/or novellas). We have a week to complete the readings for each unit, and then every Tuesday we submit a short essay on the previous week’s readings (between 270 and 320 words). We then have to complete 5 peer reviews (anonymously) for our fellow course mates by Thursday of that week.

The experience thus far has been very rewarding. The discussion forum is typically lively and engaging. The videos Prof. Rabkin releases each week are wonderful. I like that he waits until after we have done the readings and written our own essays before releasing his videos for that unit. This allows the students to think through our own views from a close reading of the text(s), arrive at a theme or aspect of the story we want to explore, and then write a short essay on the material without being unduly influenced by the Professor’s literary analysis ahead of developing our own ideas. It works for me, and I see why he does it this way. Professor Rabkin knows his stuff. The videos are always insightful.

Here is the reading list for the course:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales
  2. Carroll — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems**
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The Country of the Blind and The Star
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars and  Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother

I missed one week due to being out of town on holiday (Unit 3, Dracula). I have read the novel in the past, yet I plan on returning to it and writing my essay anyway.

** The specific stories/poems for Unit 5 are as follows –
Hawthorne’s The Birthmark, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,  and The Artist of the Beautiful; Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Oval Portrait, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Bells, The Raven and Annabel Lee.

A Fantasy/Sci-Fi Course on Coursera!

Attention all Fantasy and Sci-Fi fans and writers! I learned there is a course coming up in June called, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. This looks quite interesting. The start date is 3 June 2013. The course is 11 weeks long. I just signed up. Maybe you will join me in this adventure? This MOOC thing is becoming irresistible. I just need to make sure I don’t enroll in more than I can handle at one time.