If you go to major authors — either alive, or dead and classical — for advice, what you mostly get are a few very short sentences on the matter, because frankly, that’s all the advice that needs to be given. (By contrast, you can go on the internet and find buckets of people ready to shovel mounds of writing advice down your throat, most of it dubious, but never mind). The advice tends to be pretty simple when from the working, busy, Authors.
It tends to be “Read a lot” and “Write a lot.” And that’s about it.
But there’s one really interesting detail added to the “read a lot” category, which is on my mind, because I had it reiterated at me this morning by Ernest Hemingway
And it is: Read the classics. Read your betters. Read the giants of writing. And by doing so, you’ll know where your competition is. He pointed out that there’s nothing in writing to do but write something utterly new, or else try to better those who came before you and are now dead. It’s partially why he used such interesting boxing metaphors when talking about writing (“I went six rounds with Tolstoy today,” for example).
I think it’s true enough. I always worry slightly about writers I meet who just seem to read the lowest-common-denominator fiction they can find (it can be fun, but it shouldn’t be all you read…it’d be like being a chef, but you’ve only ever eaten Twinkies). (And another note: I worry about THOSE writers, but I’m utterly baffled and astonished by writers who DON’T particularly seem to read. You’re not gonna accomplish a lot as a writer if you aren’t reading, and reading a LOT).
Anyway. I’ve heard that advice before, and I’ve never minded it, because I’ve read an awful lot of classic, giant, amazing literature. I was rather lucky in that regard, in my schooling growing up. I had an unusually large emphasis on reading, and literature at that. I was reading “Hunchback of Notre Dame” rather earlier than anyone around me might have been required to (and thank god I did: the effect that Victor Hugo had on me was immense. And then I went on to read “Les Miserables” which to this day, floors me).
But there’s so many classic works I haven’t read. And I own most of ’em. So I’m gonna dig into ’em, en masse. And I’m gonna go back and re-read. And why not? I wouldn’t mind reading Moby Dick again. Or anything by Jack London (that man was amazing). And then we’ll go from there.
I’m going to need to find new copies of Guy de Maussipiant books, because mine — a gift from the rather-neat-himself Lucien Spelman — are from the 1800’s and are definitely not in reading condition.
But first, I have to finish what I’m reading. Which is, “The Cosmic Serpent,” and “Ilium” by Dan Simmons. I finished “The Time Machine” the day after I started reading it, because frankly, that is a teensy little book.
So that’s my reading life, or gonna be. I don’t know if it’s interesting to you, but what the hell.
In other news, it snowed quite a lot this past weekend. All Minnesotans were caught off-guard, not expecting to have to kvetch about the early arrival of snow for another month or so. But we got into gear quickly and kvetched like we were expecting it.
What I love about the early snows in a college town is watching the kids who moved here and aren’t expecting winter. It doesn’t matter how much you warn them “it does get cold here, and it snows a lot,” they have a rather less extreme idea of what this means than what it ACTUALLY winds up meaning. so you see them stumbling around the Mall, or the Campus, looking shell-shocked and terrified of the outside world, in utter disbelief that the world can actually turn into this.
(Except for the nice man I met from Labrador, Canada, who is pretty unphased by our winter. But then, if I lived in Labrador, Canada, I’d be untouched by wimpy Minnesota weather too…)
Right. I have four short stories sitting in my head, backing up. I need to go work on them.