Posted by: oneyearbook | March 26, 2009

No more fiction

No more fiction

No more fiction

Last night I sat down to open a novel from the library and was hit with an unfamiliar feeling: fear. I was afraid to start reading the book because I knew I’d be mentally comparing it to the work I’d done so far on Instructions for Cheating at History. Sure, I’d finished reading a couple books since I started writing two weeks ago, but they were both non-fiction. This was the first new work of fiction I’d cracked. (It also happened to be historical.) But, not to be daunted, I did indeed open it, and read the first few pages. Then I put it down and picked up another novel lying nearby, also a historical piece, and a Pulitzer Prize-winner (and in first person, to boot) and read the first few pages of that, too. I was no longer particularly afraid – I didn’t feel like the work I’d been doing had been turned to dreck in my mind by reading these books, or anything depressing like that – but I was, in fact, mentally being consumed by thoughts of my own novel while reading. I wasn’t following what was happening in either novel, just skimming along, thinking about my own work and how I was handling similar challenges, noting how they were facing particular technical challenges.

Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing: this is one of the skills I think we were meant to learn at university, how to read other authors’ work with an eye to the elements of craft, and it’s one that I’ve never really made much of an effort at. When I read a novel, I am immersed. I’m not thinking about the author or the intentions or the choice or this word over that (or, at least, I wasn’t as of two weeks ago). Now that I seem to be doing this as a matter of course, I fully intend, when I’m finished a first draft, to take a week off and just read, read, read books that I already know and admire, in order to absorb the various techniques at work. However I think it’s rude to pull this trick on books that are new to me; it doesn’t give them a chance to be a book that I just relax into. So I’m packing up all the novels, all the works of fiction, that I have here at the house and returning them to the library. Some day down the line, when my reading eye has relaxed a little – maybe after a second draft, say – I’ll go and get them back again. But for now: no more fiction.

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