They’re Not Kidding When They Say “Read Widely”

As this semester’s syllabi stack up, I realize I probably won’t have that much time to blog (just a heads up). The main root of this problem is my creative writing class- which looks great- only it’s starting with poetry.

dfbeb31f7bce8a7214d05bcd7d85f8f3I don’t know about you, but I’m a prose type of girl.

The very first assignment was to write two sonnets and two ballads. I started with sonnets since they’re shorter- only fourteen lines. Should be easy, right? Heh… heh… thump. Whoops, that was my head hitting my desk.

It took me over an hour to write my first sonnet, since I had to count and recount the syllables, check and double check I was rhyming the right lines, and read and reread the ‘guidelines.’ In short: nothing flowed.

When I sat down to write a ballad, though, something clicked. I’d write a line, count the syllables, and find them exact. The rhymes were much easier, and I had way more fun finding the right wording.

Part of this is because ballads are easier than sonnets: the rhyme scheme is less complex and the subject matter is more straightforward. But more importantly, the rhythm is familiar. I think parts of Dr. Seuss’s books are structured like ballads, and so are other children’s books. I already know the rhythm. Sonnets, though? I’d never read anything like them before.

This reminded me that I never pay attention to pacing in my novels. Because I’ve read so many books, the right structure just kind of happens. I know the rhythm of a novel.

If you want to write, you need to read. More specifically, you need to read the type of stuff you write. After all, a western novel has a different rhythm or flow than a fantasy novel, which is different than a romance novel.

And this is even more important across mediums. You want to write poetry? Read it. Read lots of it. Read it until you get the rhythm stuck in your head like you’d get a song stuck there. You want to write plays? Read a million, first. If you even think you might want to write something, read it! Do whatever you can to get the right rhythm in your head. You’ll thank yourself when you sit down to write.

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