Monday, September 8, 2008

Permission to lie on the couch, but only to read

I find myself in a strange and unaccustomed interval right now: I have free time. I have finished up 95% of my current work projects and am waiting to start on a larger and long-term assignment towards the end of the month. The kids are back in school, the foreign exchange student went home, and the back-to-school paperwork responsibilities of my Room Mom job are dispatched.

For now I'm resisting the impulse to start another novel rewrite, believing that my chance for success is better if I wait until I am simply BURSTING to get back into it. Right now, not bursting.

But it doesn't mean I'm going to lay on the couch and watch Orpah (as my aunt Noonie has always called her.) No, I bought a great book called Master Class in Fiction Writing by Adam Sexton. As the publisher says:

Many writers believe that if they just find the right teacher or workshop, their writing will reach new heights of skill. But why not learn from the best? In his popular workshops in New York City, creative writing instructor Adam Sexton has found that the most effective way for any writer to grasp on the elements of fiction is to study the great masters. Master Class in Fiction Writing is your personal crash course in creative writing, with the world's most accomplished fiction writers as your guides.

You'll learn the art of characterization from Austen, style and voice from Hemingway, and dialogue from Murdoch. You'll discover the timeless techniques of plotting in the work of Conrad and the ingenious structure of Joyce. These are the most important lessons any writer can learn--a truly "novel" approach to writing that will enrich, inform, and inspire.

So it works like this: I read the first few pages of the chapter on, let's say, Characterization. Then Mr. Sexton says, "Go read Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and then read the rest of this chapter." And when I do, all his comments and observations about the craft of good characterization are illustrated by examples like Lucy Steele, Mrs. Underwoood, and Elinor Dashwood who are fresh in my mind.

Being impelled to spend a couple of hours each day with books that I've been meaning to read or
re-read for years, all in the name of bettering my novel and absorbing Sexton's lessons, is a real gift. Even if it means I have to read Hemingway- sorry, but ugh. How many pages of The Sun Also Rises will be spent in describing how the narrator and his comrades travel from bar to bar and then what they drink when they get there? It's like reading a frat boy memoir. Then again Hemingway is an American icon, and I'm unpublished.

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