Learning to write successfully seems like a multi-pronged attack on the way we think. Making sense of what has been written already by other writers can be a really helpful way to understand writing styles, structures and techniques. Learning the art of writing then relies upon the art of reading widely and critically. Reading from a range of genres and authors, determining what we like and why. What we don’t like and why. Moving beyond our usual comfort zones and reading for different purposes.
As readers, we might have been drawn to a particular style of writing or genre of writing. Starting to recognize what we like about this can be helpful in determining what style of writing we might want to use. The more we read in a particular style, the more we internalize this style, take on the elements of writing that have been used. This might then begin, over time, to transfer into our own writing.
One of my favorite genres has always been memoir. As a child I remember being interested in reading about “real things”, about true stories. What my child and early adult mind hadn’t recognized was that fiction often draws upon reality. While the characters may be made up in fiction, they may in fact be based on real life characters. The activities of the characters might be drawn on real life activities, either experienced personally or witnessed by the author.
The real irony I was not to understand until many years after childhood was that fiction may in fact be more “true to life” than memoir or biography. In fiction the writer can be more honest, more open, bring an accuracy to the story that is not possible in non-fiction writing. There can be a whole range of constraints, ethical, legal and personal, which prevent the real story being told in memoir form. Even when the fiction story is set in a non – real setting, such as can be found in science fiction writing, themes of humanity, and characteristics of humans can still come through in the writing.
So part of my learning more about writing requires me to expand my reading. To explore new genres. To find ways to make meaning out of stories that don’t fit my usual, closer to fact, thinking. To struggle through paragraphs of writing that don’t always feel comfortable to me, don’t always make sense on first reading, don’t always interest me. Through this process, I can begin to understand the writing process itself more deeply.