In order to write well, one needs to read.
The pressure on writers to produce a huge back catalogue if they are to have any chance to engage new readers, can lead the former to concentrate solely on putting words on paper, with no time to read or even dream. I’ve been told that to make money as a writer I need at least thirty books to my name. In my case, and I imagine in other cases, that means publishing ill thought out and poorly edited crap, just in order to have plenty of book covers. If that is the way to make money then count me out. Words, worlds and the craft of writing are too precious to squander.
Reading as a writer helps me see what works and what doesn’t. I consider it a masterclass in my art. But reading takes time, as does thinking, and writing and editing. A book can take years to write and still not achieve perfection. The beauty and joy is in the journey. I willingly submit to that journey, not only as a writer but as someone who wishes to understand what it means to be human.
I have just finished reading Paulo Coelho’s “Veronika Decides to Die”. This is the fourth book by Coelho I have read and, in my mind, the least successful. However, it has taught me more about the craft than his more accomplished novels ever did. It showed me what I enjoy and what I find frustrating as a reader.
The themes of the book are fascinating – the cross-over between madness and sanity, the difficulty people face when they feel they are at odds with society. The suggestion that every one is different but that the masses expend vital energy trying to be the same as everyone else (I recall a Monty Python sketch at this point). It looks at the value of life – the mindless repetition of days versus the thrill of believing each day might be our last, and living every moment to the full in an authentic way.
What doesn’t work in the book, for me anyway, and reading other reviews it seems a common complaint, is the way the story shifts point of view in an arbitrary manner, taking away from rather than adding to the value of the piece. The author manages to insert himself into one of the chapters for no good reason, sticking to the afterword would have been more effective. Following Veronika’s journey closely to its conclusion would have been far more satisfying, instead the narrative jumps between patients and the doctor. It doesn’t commit to the story, and perhaps this is to reflect that Veronika didn’t commit to her life. But it doesn’t feel like a metaphor or a clever device. It feels lazy and ill thought out. As a writer who has jumped between points of view in my own stories it gave me a wake up call, sometimes what we leave out is as important as what we include in a book. A story about one person’s life is better told by that person alone. A story told about a community, like Middlemarch, can afford to switch lenses, but an intimately personal tale is stronger when it does not.
From this point on I promise myself that I will consider more carefully what I should leave out of a story. I want the books I write to be as close to perfect as my talent allows, and if that means that I will never have the back catalogue a successful indie author requires, then so be it. At least I can be proud of what I write.