Monday, March 20, 2023

How do you read? Sheila Claydon


Claire, the heroine in my book Reluctant Date is in a rut. Her work as a librarian is no longer interesting but she isn't brave enough to change things until she meets her reluctant date who persuades her that her knowledge of books, her skills as a researcher and her love of photography are her route to a new life.

Thinking about Claire's metamorphosis (because of course all characters are real people to the writers who create them) made me think about the skills writers need. Imagination, creativity, the ability to research a variety of topics, persistence, being able to work alone for long periods, concentration, editing, being able to take criticism, typing and computer skills, administration skills and...and...I could go on because writing, on the whole, is a one person business. Whether regularly working alone in a designated office space or grabbing a precious hour or two in an otherwise busy day, it all boils down to the same thing. Writers are on their own.

We all need to relax though, so what happens at the end of a book, when the writer can take a breath and step back into the world. Everyone is different of course, so there will be some who will go jogging or exercise at the gym while others will pour a glass of wine and sit watching the sunset, or they will catch up with friends, or go travelling, I go again, another long list.  There is one thing that all writers do, however, and that is read. It's impossible to separate a writer from words, whether their own or other peoples, and this leads me to another problem. Reading books by other people can be tricky.

Overlong sentences, a slow storyline, grammar mistakes and typos (yes they occur even in much hyped best sellers) facts that are just plain wrong, a sense towards the end of a book that the author is trying to tie up all the ends too quickly, wordy technical explanations, characters that just don't ring true, a plot that doesn't sound plausible. Any of these things can spoil a book for any reader, but for this writer they make the difference between enjoying and finishing a book or throwing it aside.

Then there is the other problem. A book where the plot is good, the characters believable but the author's wordiness gets in the way. Reading a book where I can't stop myself mentally re-writing every other paragraph is so exhausting that skimming large sections of the prose is the only solution. 

Learning to cut words, to read and re-read a page, a chapter, the whole book until there are no superfluous words and the story flows is what most writers do automatically. The same goes for magazine articles and the opinion columns in newspapers. Some journalists are brilliant and very readable whatever the subject whereas others leave this picky writer/reader feeling 'so what' if I manage to stick it out to the end of the piece. Worst of all are the verbatim interviews that are becoming increasingly popular and which seem to suck the life out of the interviewee rather than enhance them.

So while books have always been the backbone of my life, and while I love reading and rarely have fewer than 3 or 4 books on the go at any one time, becoming a writer has made me increasingly selective about what I read. This does have some upsides though because my unintentional and unwanted pickiness has pushed me towards far more non-fiction than I ever read before, something which has greatly expanded my worldview. And the other thing, the best one of all, is the joy I feel when I discover that book! 

The book that I can't put down. The book that gets in the way of meal times, chores, plans and which follows me to bed until the early hours. The book that takes over my life from beginning to end. The book that all writers hope to write at least once in their lives.


  1. Reading is important for a writer The one thing that irritates me is when I find a new book by an author I enjoy and then find it doesn't make the mark. Often i find the plot is so ordinary.

  2. I also have problems turning off my editor's mode when I read, and love the happy surprise when the book is so good the prose becomes transparent and I can enjoy the story. Thanks for sharing.


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