Here’s an idea for improving our writing craft that’s worth considering: Spend from 30 minutes to an hour a day reading one of the “greats” — authors whose writing you truly admire and whose works have stood the test of time. When I came across this suggestion, it really hit home with me. Actually, I started doing this over the summer; for a few weeks, I spent time early in the morning every day reading and savoring a few pages of a translation of Marcel Proust’s amazing Remembrance of Things Past. The writing is lush and layered, his prose and imagery are incredibly vivid, and his mastery of the mind and the way it toils to delude itself are truly astonishing. Here’s a passage about the main character’s obsession as an adolescent with the lovely young but indifferent Gilberte:
“And while my love, incessantly waiting for the morrow to bring the avowal of Gilberte’s for me, destroyed, unravelled every evening the ill-done work of the day, in some shadowed part of my being an unknown seamstress refused to abandon the discarded threads, but collected and rearranged them, without any thought of pleasing me or of toiling for my happiness…”
To me, there is something wonderful about the image of an “unknown seamstress” patiently arranging and rearranging the threads of a lover’s thoughts about someone who has no need or desire to love him back. Who knows what idea this might spark in my own writing on the YA front?
Hemingway, Dickens, Shakespeare, Tolstoy: Just think about what makes these writers great. Why not come up with a writer you admire, pull him or her down from a shelf and immerse yourself in their language briefly each day? Not only may this rekindle your love of their work, it may also inspire you to aim higher in your own. Many great writers did this themselves. Willa Cather used to begin her day by reading The Bible to steep herself in its imagery and Ernest Hemingway memorized long biblical passages because he wanted to internalize their rhythm and structure so that he could infuse his own work with those same qualities.
Whether its poetry or prose, plays or novels, the psalms or short stories, we can never go wrong spending time with timeless authors. So pick a favorite and write on!