Monday, January 10, 2011

Do I really need a title on a Monday?

I spent part of my weekend listening to a bunch of Kazuo Ishiguro lectures on YouTube. The author discussed his book, Never Let Me Go, and a collection of his short stories called Nocturnes.

As I was doing this, a part of me was getting antsy to actually write instead of listening to another writer. (I'm working on Cyberlama!) At the same time, I continued to listen with the hope that I might gain some insight into how this author writes what he does.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that I often seem to come to after listening to other authors or reading about other authors. I didn't learn much at all, and yet I found it oddly satisfying.

So, I wonder: What do we get, if anything, out of listening to other writers? Do you read writer biographies or diaries or listen to writer lectures?


  1. I seriously adore writer biographies from my favorite period, the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sometimes I dip into the biography of a more recent writer.

    I rarely find writers interesting in videos when they talk about their work. Exceptions are AS Byatt and Laurie R King, whose intelligence and humor are a delight. I learn much from listening to these ladies.

    Hearing writers talk about writing encourages me, because seeing the human behind the writing makes the startling fact that I myself now write fiction seem more plausible. They are not gods: they are people who learned and persevered. It's not completely out of my reach.

  2. I think, when it comes down to it, if you're a writer who has got past teen angst about your writing (which lasted me until I was over 30) and has moved onto mid-life crisis about your writing, the main thing one gets from exposure to author writers is reassurance that it's okay to go about things in different ways as long as you're putting out stories you're proud of.

    Not every writer says that. Many, in fact, do not. But when I hear them describe parts of their writing approach that, to me, are outlandish, I realize that it must be so, because clearly it works for them even though it would be like a a circus for me.

    As for your final question, I used to seek out such information, but I rarely do anymore, except in personal conversations with writers. That's different, because it's interactive. But I don't seek out lectures or bios anymore, except perhaps if the author is personally just interesting.

    Anticipating a follow-up question, the one author whose quasi-lecture about the practical craft of writing probably influenced me the most was Robert Ludlum's. Go figure.

  3. I do, sometimes, in the hopes of learning something. Usually what happens is that an idea or two would spark off a reaction in my mind. That's the payoff.

    And no, you don't need a title on a Monday morning.

  4. I do...maybe to learn something new but more likely to feel a connection to the process. To hear something and say, "I do that!". It gives me hope and encouragement.

  5. I think reading blogs all the time is the same as listening to other writers. I find it oddly satisfying, as well. It's good to have validation of our creative endeavors - knowing we're not alone and things can always go up instead of down.

    Nevets, I love Robert Ludlum's story. It might be even better if I actually went and read his books instead of just watching the Bourne movies. :)

  6. @Michelle - Reading blogs for me is sometimes the same, except that I approach them differently, and I only take a handful of them seriously. But that may be my personality and not an indication of an actual difference between the two.

    Oh, and mark this down for 6 years from now, when you have a couple days off. If you want to read a Ludlum novel, start with the first one: The Chancellor Manuscript. It's an amazingly convoluted, high-adrenaline read.

  7. You name it, I've probably read it. It keeps me motivated.

    Lisa kilian

  8. Right, Nevets, 6 years from now. That sounds about right.

  9. Jane, that is a most excellent point. Now that you've said it, I realize that this idea of seeing the human behind the work is also part of what gets me to watch and read these things.

    Nevets, I get that. And, it does seem true that seeing the paths of all these writers is a reminder that there are multiple ways of achieving writing and/or publishing success.

    Yat-Yee, I just EXPECTING to learn something, and I feel like I rarely ever do. Ideas are sparker, you're write, which maybe is all I should expect. But then, ideas come from everywhere, right? Thanks for the permission to not have a title. I spent all of 10 seconds on it before I gave up!

    Tess, yeah, I feel that way too. I guess everyone is right here. It is for that feeling of shared experience. At the same time, it never is fully satisfying for me. It just makes me want more!

  10. Michelle, Yes, I didn't mention us bloggers, but as I was writing, I did make the same connection. All of the bloggers around are much like the writer biographies and videos on some ways. The subject matter seems different sometimes because I feel like the "famous" writers can talk with more certainty or something (?). I think we all should talk with more certainty about our own intentions and writing processes. We should know what we're doing, even if we have more universal questions.

    Lisa, it keeps me motivated too...even if sometimes it's a distraction!

  11. The "famous" writers have more validation...especially to us. I think that can make a big difference.

  12. I think the famous writers have more confidence that we should have.

  13. Possibly. Confidence would definitely come from lots of sales and being famous. :P

  14. Titles are not obligatory, on this or any day! There, I said it.

    I always read the writer interviews in Paris Review, and I have one volume of the collected interviews (the one with Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner in it). I read a lot of literary criticism and theory and I've got both of Byatt's books about writing on the shelf, and two of John Gardner's three books and Nabokov's lectures and gosh, a pile of other stuff. You've seen the bookshelves in the Designated Writing Room, Domey.

    I read this stuff for a couple of reasons. First, it's just interesting to me and I'm a fan of writers, the same way I'm a fan of violinists (I read The Strad and Strings magazines every month). Secondly, I'm interested in what good writers have to say about craft. If they say something new to me, that's good because it gives me a new and possibly better way to think about writing. If they say something that I agree with, that's reassuring. If they say something that sounds totally insane, that's also good because sometimes I think creativity is a form of madness and there's no way to talk about certain aspects of craft without sounding a little mad. I like Paris Review because they print pages of author notes and early drafts with the writer's corrections and stuff. That's always fascinating. The chart David Mitchell made for The Thousand Autumns of Jakob de Zoet is really cool and reminds me of the charts I make of my own books. I don't read much in the way of writer biographies.

  15. I'm exactly the same ... and yet I enjoy hearing how other writers work, feeling that I'm part of that club. It's only in recent years I've really done this though now my own style is established and I doubt I could change it if I wanted to.

  16. I don't,Davin. I get sleepy. I'd much rather write. To me, that's the most important thing I can do to improve my craft. I'd much rather read blogs and interact that way. I still learn TONS of things and I learned them in my jammies. ;)


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