“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad,
and see how they do it.”
One of the best ways to improve your own writing is to immerse yourself in the writing of other people. It doesn’t really matter what you read, it is more about how you read it. This is why it’s so important to get children to read anything and everything: not because every piece of writing is equally good, but because every book, story, article, review (no matter how great, trashy or poorly written) has something to teach its reader. When I read, most of me is immersed in the story or the information, but in the back of my mind I have one eye on technique. This is often subconscious – I wince at the way that the author has expressed something, or at something the author has said. Conversely I might give a little shiver of pleasure, at a particularly well written sentence, or a beautifully expressed image. When this happens, it is a great opportunity for me to read as a writer: to take a moment to consider why the writing has pleased or displeased me, and to add it to my mental bank of great techniques/things to avoid.
One of the weirdest/hardest/scariest things to do as a writer is read your own writing with a critical eye, but this is typically what makes the difference between success and failure. To come afresh to your own writing – to read it as though for the first time – requires a kind of split personality. At the moment I’m working on Road School, a book about the adventures that we had last year, when we took our kids out of school, and educated them on the road. Writing it is an odd experience because (a) it is partly autobiographical and (b) I’m trying to make it funny. Each evening I save the document, close it down, and despair that anyone would ever think it even mildly amusing. Each morning, I open the document, read it through, and think ‘oh, that’s actually quite good’. I’m in two minds about the ‘pretend quote’ that I’ve made up for the back cover, though. Perhaps you can help me out: is this quote funny, or is that just me?
“This book is disgusting.
It is the bastard love child of Rousseau, Dewey and Piaget.”