Friday, March 25, 2011

Learning from Literature

There are two ways to learn a trade:


Me, I prefer the apprenticeship model. :) Of course getting a degree is difficult and wonderful if you can afford it, but I've always admired people who took the initiative to learn a trade from an expert, like my friend in college who went into the carpeting business (complicated trade, that one) or the radio DJ who never majored in broadcast journalism but worked his way up from the coffee-getter position all the same. There's value in learning from real life, just as I believe there's value in learning from real books (vs. text books). My kids will use text books only for math; that's how strongly I believe in the power of learning through life and literature.

As a writer, this perspective has helped me to grow and improve. I read obsessively, taking both the reader's catharsis and the writer's insight. I'm like a plant, soaking up every drop of goodness I recognize. And the more I read, the more I understand what it is that elevates my favorite stories above the rest. In fact, I'm musing about Devastating Your Reader over on Operation Awesome this morning after a night-long read of GRACELING by Kristin Cashore.

Meanwhile, I keep on writing, hoping to write enough bad fiction that there'll be nothing left in me but phenomenal fiction by the time I'm fifty. My writing grows by practice. But it grows even more by observation. We humans are a naturally critical bunch. We spot typos (even if we're not English majors). We see plot holes and non sequitur. We see beauty and ingenuity and talent. And we're generally very good apes. Copy cats. It's how a child grows into an adult, and it's how an amateur grows into a professional writer.

So my question for you today is, what have you read lately? And are you reading enough?


  1. Lovely post! A university degree provides a certain foundation but life itself is the greatest teacher (and critic). We just had the carpet replaced in this room. It's an exacting trade and I have a lot of respect for those who convert numbers into a pretty room.

    I'm not reading anything at the moment. We've had some beatiful days...out and about, to museums, the parks...a treat before two inches of snow fall tomorrow night.

  2. I've got a stack of middle grade books by my bed. The one that absolutely held my attention and heart from page 1 to the end was Falling In (I don't have the book on me right now, but I think it's by Frances O'Roarke Dowell). I wish I had the ability to stay up later to read, but I need sleep for balance. I wish I were one of those super people who can stay up and be fine the next day, but alas...

  3. I am a hands on learner for sure. I am currently not reading anything too interesting. I am wondering if I should move on to one of the many books I have stacked on my bookshelf or push on with the one I should be reading now. :/

  4. Apprentice model for me, as well. I'm currently reading my awesome crit partner's novel (one of them, anyway!), my own work, and The Bitch Posse, which is amusing (:

    Great post and great blog BTW!

  5. Great post. That's the way I look at it too. So many times I want to "just get published already!" But I realize that I'm still in the learning phase. And that's OK. The more I read, the more I write and the more feedback I receive . . . the better I get.


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