Reading for Better WritingPosted by Jessica Oman
I just finished a novel called The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett. I’d never heard of it, or the author, when I bought the book, which is how I like things. Instead, as I usually do when I’m looking for a new book to read, I scanned the first page, taking note of the writing style. Then I read the back cover to see if I would like the story.
If I’m intrigued, I check the price. If it’s less than a twoonie, I’ll buy it. Yes, I’m a bargain-bin novel hunter. I pick up my books for a few cents at garage sales, and pillage piles of clearance fiction. But that’s beside the point; what I’m trying to say is the inspiration I get from reading creative writing is helping me write better, and the investment is miniscule.
The great thing about novels, beyond the chance to lose yourself in a story, in a fantasy, or in some other world, is that every author expresses their unique way of using language. All the literary techniques I learned in undergraduate school are applied (sometimes subconsciously), grammatical rules are made and then broken, words are molded and worked into timeless pieces of art we call novels. Some are just great, entertaining stories; others build up an intense set of emotions that are left for the reader to process when the book is finished. The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan did that to me (you really ought to read it).
Every book I read teaches me something about how to convey a message, an emotion or an idea in my business writing. Novels help me remember how to use language as a conduit for the passion my clients have about their companies. I don’t want to write cookie cutter business plans. I want each piece to have its own flavour, to take the techniques from literature and create a document with impact, rather than just a mishmash of catch phrases like “value proposition”, “investment profile”, and “strategic plan”. Those things are all important, but we don’t always have to say them in the same way.
I’ve attempted creative writing, but I am really bad at it. I mean awful. I have written exactly two poems in my entire life that I was willing to share with other people (in the form of song; yes, I used to be in a band). I won’t ever be a creative writer and I don’t want to be. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be creativity and fun in language, even where it has to be professional and polished.