Reading as writers

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You’re a writer, so you read. A lot. Right? We all know how important it is, it’s one of the mantras. You want to write short stories, you need to read them. Find out how they work, what you like, what sparks you? Read outside your comfort zone, read what you love, read what others recommend. Read everything! But how are you reading? Are you paying attention? Are you noticing what the writer is doing? When I teach short story courses, alongside the writing exercises, we read a story a week, looking at how it works. We take the story apart, if you like, examine the craft (it used to be called practical criticism when I was at school) and then we try it out in our own writing.

George Saunders currently has an online story club where he’s encouraging writers and readers to do this kind of work. I haven’t had time yet but I’ve flagged all the emails and at some point will take a month (ha!) and go through them. I have read his book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, a close analysis of seven classic Russian stories (Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Gogol), essential reading I’d say, for anyone writing short stories. A few years ago, I got into the habit of keeping a reading journal where I keep track of what I’m reading, jot down words, phrases, techniques. I try and do a line or two on ‘what’s it about’ and a bit more on ‘how does it work’ (or not!). That might be something you could try on your own story, especially if you’re feeling a bit stuck. It helps get a different perspective and you might surprise yourself.

Alison Woodhouse, February 8th, 2022.