Reading Like a Writer

I’ve mentioned previously that Reading Like a Writer by the aptly named, Francine Prose was one of the best set texts from my MLitt course. It taught me how to have a better appreciation of what I read but the one downside is that I now find it hard to switch off my writer’s eye when reading a novel. This means that I’m constantly analysing the characterisation, pace, POV, structure etc and failing to lighten up when I’m supposed to be reading for pleasure.

I wish I could buy the body to go with the T-shirt!

The result of this critical approach is that I’ve just given up on my 4th book in a row. My reading habits have changed over the years. I’ve always been an avid reader but for some unknown perverse reason, I made myself keep reading a book until the end whether I was enjoying it or not. I doubt if I’m alone in suffering from this affliction but somewhere along the line, I had an epiphany (just for the record, there were no angels involved or speaking in tongues, and it wasn’t after a few large voddies) that life is too short and my ‘to-be-read’ pile is already too high to bother sticking with reading books I don’t like.

This new ruthless approach has got even tougher in the wake of a house move and the knowledge that my TBR pile would either have to be read quickly or packed and carted off to my new abode.  Several books had been gathering dust on the TBR pile for various reasons, and many had made it on to the list due to being classed as a book I felt should read (but who says so and why should I care?).

The first one to be tackled was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. This book is hailed as a modern classic, Glasgow’s Ulysses, but I’m not embarrassed to admit that I just couldn’t get my head round it. The semi-autobiographical parts based in Glasgow appealed but the surrealism of Gray’s vision of hell was far too sophisticated for my wee brain. The next couple of books will remain nameless, let’s just say I might cross the paths of these writers in the future and I don’t want to have to run and hide from them if I dared to air my feelings publicly .

The queen of ‘tragi-comedy’ writing.

After a hat trick of failed read throughs, I went for a safe bet. Even although I rarely read crime fiction, I love Kate Atkinson’s novels in the Jackson Brodie series, I really enjoyed Human Croquet and rate Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of my all-time favourite books. The only one of her books I’d still to read was Emotionally Weird, so I felt sure that I was on to a winner, but I’m sad to say that for the first time ever, Kate let me down. For my tastes, the book seemed too self-consciously ‘literary’, with no plot to speak of involving unlikeable caricature characters and in no way lived up to my high expectations.

So I’m on to number five, with my hubby breathing down my neck to reduce the Everest proportions of the TBR whilst thrusting a packing case under my nose.  I’m quietly confident I’ll go the distance with this one, ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada, partly because I’ve got an interest in the Nazi regime of WW11, the city of Berlin and a love of novels based on true stories (which pander to my cynical nature).

But only time will tell if Alone in Berlin makes the grade and gets a hurl in the removal van…

Do you have a book that’s a permanent fixture on your TBR pile? Do you stick with a book until the end? Do you have a cut-off point? What makes you throw your book in the charity bag or even at the wall? And what makes a book worth packing to take to a new home?

Try telling that to my hubby!

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Writing a novel? Just Do It!

There are hundreds of ‘How to…’ books on the market for wannabe writers and during this semester, I’ve read several set texts on the craft of writing, the most useful one being of Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (a very apt surname for a writer!).

But the best book I’ve ever read about the creative writing process was not on the uni reading list. It is On Writing by Stephen King and is brilliant, not just for the tips on writing but also as a fascinating insight into the life of one of America’s most successful writers. 


The man has written a gazillion novels and his estimated net worth is $ 400 million so it’s fair to say that he definitely knows what he’stalking about in the realm of bestsellers. I’ve seen most of the film adaptions but not read any of his books but you don’t need to be a fan or an aspiring writer to enjoy this memoir of the craft. This isn’t a book for literary snobs but it’s certainly a book for anyone trying to hone their writing technique and find out what makes this guy tick.



It’s a great mix of life story and writing advice where he cuts through the crap and is completely honest about the highs and lows of his career (literally through his years of drink and drug addiction) and his miraculous recovery from a near fatal car crash.

I’m proud to say that King has Scottish roots and this shows in his completely unpretentious attitude to telling it like it is. He sees his phenomenal success story as being down to sheer hard work. King writes 2,000 words a day and urges wannabes to read a lot and write a lot. Simple theory- practise makes perfect (or as good as you’re ever gonna get).




“Don’t wait for the muse … This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”

The book is packed full of words of wisdom.  I wish I’d read it years ago and realised that only timid writers use passive verbs and that “the adverb is not your friend”. I’ve got a lot to learn but now that the uni semester is over, it’s time for me to stop reading the ‘How to…’ books and in the words of the great Greek goddess of victory, Nike, just do it!


If you’ve never read the book, it’s not too late to add it to your letter to Santa. Just remember King’s advice about adverbs  and don’t write that you’d screamloudly, be extremely happy, wildly jump around excitedly on Christmas morning and promise to really cherish the lovely gift if you find it in your stocking!