Saturday, July 21, 2012

Writers [on Writing]: Mary Gordon

I have a firm unwavering belief that a writer must be a reader. A writer, who carefully reads, absorbs techniques and tricks to enhance their own writing artillery. So I wasn't surprised to recently hear Karen Russell say that when her own narrative voice slips she rereads George Saunders.

I am similarly influenced by what I read (not always - it depends on the text); occasionally they are a suitable match: what I'm reading aids with what I'm writing; but on the rare occasion I have the reverse situation whereby I need to rewrite parts to ensure that my own narrative voice is consistent and not overly influenced by whatever book I'm reading.

Mary Gordon writes about utilising writing that she admires and copying it by pen. In a way, it's like dancing with an instructor - learning and acquiring pointers from their expertise.

"Then I proceed to the fiction I'm reading seriously, the one I'm using as a kind of tuning fork, the one I need to sound the tone that I will take up in the fiction that I'm writing at the time....I copy paragraphs whose heft and cadence I can learn from."

Mary Gordon, Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen or Any Paper 


  1. Certainly I agree that writers must be passionate readers; for me, reading is the true pleasure and writing a sort of second cousin of that pleasure. I find as well that there's a kind of delayed effect in elements of a writer's technique becoming visible in my own work: normally at least a year will go past before I can discern it. Perhaps for this reason, I consciously try to read writers whose style I think I will admire. Someone like DBC Pierre, for example, is a writer whom I don't dislike - but I consider his methodology to be flabby and self-indulgent, and thus I'm steering to steer clear of him :)

  2. Given that you write what you want to read - well,I do, anyway, and I've heard plenty of others say the same - it would make no sense NOT to be a reader. It really surprises me to hear some people say,"oh, I don't have time to read, I'm too busy writing." strictly amateurs, in my opinion.;-)

  3. Hi Guy
    I really enjoyed 'Vernon God Little' and as a reader I appreciate a range of styles. But I agree with you - when I read really indulgent writers like Will Self or Glen Duncan (I love their wit), I have to ensure that I pare my own prose back - so your choice of reading writers you admire is likely a wise one (although I do know that you're extremely well read). Congrats on a very successful year.

    Hi Sue
    Interesting thought about writing what you want to read. I've never thought about it that way. I feel as though it's a blend of what I'm strong at and what I like. I also enjoy keeping fresh by varying my narrative voice with each story. There are certain styles and genres that I love but don't write.

    Bet you're excited about the American Random House release of 'Wolfborn'. Huzzah!