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I Don't Know Much About Writing

Updated on September 11, 2011

[Several years ago, when I was just beginning to take my own writing more seriously, I joined a blogging site that aimed to help writers develop their craft by means of interaction with lots of other writers. After having spent several months there and watching the way the site worked, I was surprised to find how many of the good writers there were not very good readers. So, I posted this at that site. Since the place has since folded and the original post is no longer available, I thought HubPages might make a nice new home for this modified version of that article.]

There are a lot of people maintaining websites out there who do an outstanding job writing about writing. It is a good thing, and something I enjoy popping in to look at from time to time.

I, however, know nothing about writing. I still have to work quite hard at the business side of it. I do give a lot of thought to the craft, the creative processes, of writing, but really, "my thing" is in a related but different area.

For me, if there is something I think I know how to do, it is not writing but reading. Reading well -- and misreading too -- formed a big part of my postgrad studies, and reading well -- and misreading too -- is on my mind again, for various reasons.

I think there are a few things one must know in order to read well.

First, what are you reading? Is it a play? A poem? A novel? A blog post? Each of these genres should be read differently. Indeed, a failure to recognize a book as fiction can create all sorts of silly hoopla surrounding it, as seen in the whole debate surrounding Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code some years back. Knowing what is being read should shape the approach of the reader, which is the sole reason I see genre as being significant at all. It shapes the text by adhering to (or carefully departing from) certain conventions, and knowing how it does so will enhance the reading process.

Second, knowing when you are reading is also useful. A text is shaped by the material and cultural realities of the society in which it was written. Knowing and understanding this can raise the reader's awareness of what is happening in the text. I think this is an aspect of literary studies that can be overlooked. A book from Renaissance England needs to be approached differently than a book from postcolonial Africa. Different forces have shaped the text, and to read them in the same way is to potentially impose an interpretation on the text rather than draw one out from it.

Third, it is crucial to know who you are reading. By this, I am absolutely not saying that you must know who the author of the text is and dig out his/her biographical information in order to understand the text. That is, in my mind, a very wrong approach to take. Rather, there is the point that is commonly understood, but too often forgotten — that a speech should not be analyzed in a way that it is taken out of the mouth of the speaker (i.e., the character doing the speaking), or one might take a negative point in a text as a positive one. Equally important is the need to understand that a text is spoken through a persona, and does not necessarily tell us what the author thought, felt, or experienced. Creating a text is an imaginative process, and it might have absolutely nothing to do with the author's "real" thoughts and feelings. As an example, I remember in my high school English class hearing classmates say they thought, upon reading "A Modest Proposal," that Swift was cruel and heartless, and that perhaps his views formed a foundation for Nazi thought. (OK, yes, that was a really dumb group of classmates.) As absurd as that might seem, such misreadings happen at all levels of literary studies. Some critics take The Sonnets as evidence that Shakespeare was bisexual. He might have been, but it will take much greater evidence than a collection of poems to prove that to me. Perhaps it is skeptical to say so -- but then, perhaps skepticism is necessary for effective reading too.

This raises a question for me. How do we in cyber-world read each other? Is a blog always a reflection of one's deepest darkest feelings? Or might the blogger effectively sustain a persona, even throughout his comments section in a post? Does a tweet about self-destruction or self-loathing mean the poster is really suicidal, or is that a character speaking to us? What about this guy? Does he really have a need for more time with his therapist?

What do you say? Are we supposed to believe everything we read in this virtual place? How can we tell what is supposed to be a revealing of the deepest self, and what is just good, imaginative, creative writing?

© 2009 Shelly Bryant

Update (since the writing of this post)

I've learned a lot about both the craft and the business of writing since I first posted this entry. I've had a fair bit of work published since then, but still... I always feel I am a better reader than writer. — SB


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    • Shelly Bryant profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelly Bryant 

      7 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Oh well, I guess it's not for everyone.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Barkley Rosehill profile image

      Barkley Rosehill 

      7 years ago from Philadelphia

      Wow. A bit too much perhaps. Started out awesome, and really went down hill from there. I know how to read, and lost interest quicker than a bobsledder in the olympic games.

    • Shelly Bryant profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelly Bryant 

      8 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, HubCrafter.

      I could tell you that Shelly is my real name, but would you ever REALLY know? Isn't that half the fun of an online life? One can be whomever one wants.

      Some people have expressed some discomfort with that idea, but I actually think it's no different from how we live in every aspect of our lives, cyber or otherwise. We all play many different roles, and we speak from those roles as is appropriate to the situation. I mean, try talking to your spouse from the same role you speak from when you talk to your children, and you'll know really quick that we all play this game day in and day out.

      Perhaps online, because our physical bodies are hidden, the whole game of hiding and projecting is more obvious, but does that make it all that different? Don't we always attempt to project the image most appropriate to the circumstance in which we find ourselves? And doesn't that image change from moment to moment, depending on the situation and the role we need to play in that situation? To be honest, we are already pretty used to it in every day life, aren't we?

      Anyway, it's fun to think about, isn't it?

    • HubCrafter profile image


      8 years ago from Arizona

      Hi Shelly:

      Is that your "real" name? Or a poet persona I'm writing to? LOL.

      I admit, publicly, to wearing hats and taking on an ever-changing wardrobe to suit both my audience and my message. I enjoy it and I think my readers do too.

      Though I've had plenty of misgivings about some. Particularly when they've read what's clearly stated as satire to be laudable advice... or worthy of the kitchen.

      Love overlooks those things.

      Although I make no claims of relation to, or (God help me) ownership of ,my Readers; there remains the heartfelt sigh I feel when one of my Readers seems to have lit upon some spark I've left behind. Perhaps it's the way some folks approach my irksome sputterings; they just naturally back into the truth and find themselves miraculously parallel parked next to some new and novel thought. Of course, I do lament how quickly they start to practice their k-turns; but why digress into comments about hubs when you and I were just getting to know one another?

      I spent the first forty years of my life listening. Reading authors is a fine way to gain a friend without the luggage of a relationship. And there is so much to learn. From authors you get the sense of space where a mind has lived. Mere folks can be so ordinary by comparison. Unlike the lives of fictional characters; mere folks live without any thought at all to plot. And the sad result? A very poor autobiography, indeed.

      Why, I'll just bet if just...half of all the Readers out there would sit down and sketch out how the hero or heroine could amazingly extricate themselves from their latest hair-raising plot twist; well there'd be plenty of popcorn sold in the movie theater each weekend and a lot less divorces on my street.

      But..I digress.

      I'm beginning to tire of wearing the white suit and thick mustache of Mark Twain. So I'll retire. Back to my roots and the river I love. Where trees were fair as ladies gowns blowin in the breeze. Where men were bold and not so old as jerseys and guernseys and wool.

      By the way. I appreciate your stopping by my place. Hope you'll come again. There's always room for one more on the porch chairs.


    • Shelly Bryant profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelly Bryant 

      9 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      This was a fun one to write too, s0126phoenix.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • s0126phoenix profile image


      9 years ago

      nice article and so true. I know that when I finally got myself to read more that it helped my writing. Thanks for the article!

    • Shelly Bryant profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelly Bryant 

      9 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Thanks Malcolm. I always like talking about the reading process, and this post generated some really thoughtful comments the first time around.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Gee, this brings back memories. It was a nice post then and now.


    • Shelly Bryant profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelly Bryant 

      9 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Oh, I'm always happy to give a nod to my favorite crazies. :-)

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I remember this post. Very insightful.

      And more time with a therapist would likely affect little change, but thanks for the nod.


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