Reading about writing

Reading about writing

When I was doing my PhD someone recommended I read Writing down the bones: freeing the writer within by Natalie Goldberg and I found it hugely helpful. It was written in 1986 but the advice it gives is timeless and it’s based around a long list of tips to remember.

It talks about things like the power of detail and the importance of being specific, as well as how to set up your writing space so it works for you, trusting yourself when you write, the power of being able to write anywhere and the importance of re-reading and re-writing. I think it was here that I first learned how helpful it is to read aloud in your own head what you’ve just written. That’s the best way of finding out whether the timbre and sentence length work, where you need a comma, and whether your sentences are just too long. And, yes, mine usually still are.

I’ve always been fascinated by reading about how published authors write, what advice they give and where and when they write (see my blog on Daphne du Maurier). I also love the regular ‘writers room’ pieces in the Guardian newspaper to see the range of desks and offices that established writers have.

So I was delighted when one of my favourite authors Haruki Murakami published What I talk about when I talk about running a few years ago, which is an enchanting little book where he talks about how for him running and writing go hand in hand. More recently I read Writing historical fiction: a writers’ and artists’ companion by Celia Brayfield and Duncan Sprott, which again impressed upon me the importance of physical activity, like going for a long walk, to help inspiration strike. It is filled with lovely one or two page pieces of advice from all of my favourite historical fiction writers. It’s really comforting to hear how the greatest of writers struggle to write sometimes and to find out how they overcome it.

Trying to write is a lonely pursuit, so I think the best thing about reading about writing is that you suddenly feel part of a community. And perhaps slightly less bonkers for even trying to write.