This week one of my own favorite bloggers, prize-winning Canadian novelist Dora Dueck, interviewed me on her blog about an issue central to my reason for starting this blog: to learn to write by reading better writers than myself. You will want to click the link above and explore her thoughtful blogs, but in the meantime, here is what I told her earlier this week:
From Borrowing Bones blog.
A talented and determined young writer I know (Angeline Schellenberg) commented on my previous post and in the process raised with some good questions on the relationship between reading and writing. While thinking about this, it occurred to me that I must ask Shirley Hershey Showalter, whose blog 100 Memoirs I read regularly, for her thoughts on the subject. Shirley — “a farmer’s daughter turned college professor, then college president, later foundation executive” — is writing a memoir about growing up Mennonite in America (1948 to 1966) and she’s going about the learning/reading side of it very deliberately.
Today, between a visit with a friend and picking her green beans, Shirley graciously sent me her answers to three questions.
1. You set out to read 100 memoirs, with the intention to write one yourself. What are you looking for?
2. How does the experience of reading affect your own project?
3. Do you find, as A.S. noted, that reading other examples of what you’re doing can be reactionary rather than generative, and that it makes it harder to hear one’s own voice? What advice do you have to make the experience generative, to keep your own voice?
Harold Bloom has written about the anxiety of authorship here summarized, and Susan Gilbert and Sandra Gubar responded. I personally prefer Willa Cather’s imagistic explanation better than all these post-Freudian theories. A woman writer stands in the stream of literary history, but lets it fall away to reveal the purer self that sings naturally in her own body, in her own voice.
Thank you Shirley! You’ve given us some wonderful wisdom here (and some provocative links), for writers, yes, but for practitioners of anything really, from preaching to parenting, all who must absorb the influence of others while honing their unique approach. I’m very much looking forward to the song you’ll sing in your memoir!
Thanks, Dora. And now readers, here’s your turn. Can you give one example from simply reading another book that has made a difference in either your writing or your life??