Today starts a scheduled three-day vacation, which I am spending at home due to an unfortunate head injury that I suffered last night. I will live, but the the injury has subjugated me to sitting on my couch with minimal movement (according to doctor's orders). That said, I spent the morning watching the old boob tube and flipping through channels.
I came across a pseudo-documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, whom I was vaguely familiar with from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a story I have never read but have a general awareness of content. Leaving politics aside (PLEASE), I found one particular idea of his as very intriguing:
As an exercise in writing when he was younger, he would rewrite entire novels (word-for-word and punctuated identically) of writers he wished to emulate. He said he wanted to know how it felt to write the words to these "great" stories. It seemed like an interesting idea and I could see numerous benefits, albeit a little time-consuming.
I don't know how effective that would be. To me, their is something very personal about writing that can't be gained from writing someone else's work, and I feel like any improvement has to come from a source of inspiration and that 'aha' moment that is as much a product of student as teacher.
Posts: 1043 | Registered: Jul 2010
| IP: Logged |
I've known quite a few people (and good writers) who've done that, though they limited it to a page or so. The idea is that it really forces you to pay attention to word choice. I've never done it myself, but I don't think it hurts in small doses.
It's something I've recommended to people who want to learn more about how a particular author did something they wanted to learn about.
I've noticed things by typing, word-for-word, an article that I didn't notice while reading it (I used to put out a writing newsletter, and often, I would have to type the articles because they didn't come to me in a format I could just cut and paste into the newsletter).
Another approach, which can be even more "boring" (and can make you hate the book, if not the author), is to read a book or story straight through at least three times without reading anything else in between.
You will see the "seams" and you will notice authorial "ticks" and other stylistic things that you would not notice in any other way.
So, yes, it is one way to learn from another writer.
Yet another way, which may not be quite so destructive, is to take your personal copy of the work and highlight various things in it. Such as using yellow for setting, pink for characterization, blue for description, and so on. That will help you see how the author mingles such things as well as how much wordage the author spends on each thing, where the "lumps" are, etc.
Definitely worthwhile, perhaps not for a whole book but for scenes or sections where you really admire the writing, the style, the way an author accomplishes something. Feeling their words play out under your fingers can be really powerful.
It's all a component of becoming your own best writer, I think (same way that reading a lot is an important aspect of being a good writer, too.)
One of the reasons I think typing something someone else has written can be helpful (or more helpful than just reading it), is that when you type it, it has to go in your eyes (or if you've got an audio book, in your ears--or both, if you're really masochistic about this) and through your body and out your fingers.
That way you are involving more of yourself and more senses in processing the words.
People process differently, and forcing yourself to process in more than one way can give you insights that you might not receive if you only process the way you're used to.
The repetition also helps. I had a film appreciation class where part of the final was an analysis of a current movie (something currently in the theaters) and the guidelines suggested seeing the film a minimum of 5 times...the first couple of times to get the newness out of your head and the other three for notes, observations and other things that you might have missed the first couple of times when you were actually "Watching" the movie.
Posts: 50 | Registered: Feb 2010
| IP: Logged |
My main issue with this is that for me transcription is almost an automatic process. It goes in through the eyes and out through the fingers and barely brushes my thoughts. I would probably get more benefit out of just reading it over twice.
But then again maybe not, I've never tried it before with any writing I actually respected .
For you, Nate, you might benefit from just reading the work aloud. We listen to audiobooks constantly (my kids and I) and the more work by a single author we listen to, the more I get a feel for that author's cadence, style, wording choices, etc. The one we're listening to now has things wink into existence incalculable times (wink and incalculable are two of his favorite words I think!) I'm 99% sure I wouldn't notice the phrasing similarities were I reading with my eyes, as I would skim over repetitious feeling things without even noticing (I'm a big skimmer.)
So reading then listening to an audiobook and/or reading a book aloud are also great ways to really feel how another writer accomplishes things (though I think to understand how it feels to WRITE that way retyping is a key element.)
I've heard this advice before. I agree with KayTi that you don't need to rewrite the entire novel, but it might be good to pick out scenes you have a hard time writing and retype some ones that worked well for you.
I know I struggle with beginnings and fight scenes, so I maybe I should try that. I do think it would help me hone in on what works and doesn't on the word level. I don't think I'd ever have the patience to retype an entire novel.
I like your idea of highlighting books. KDW. I'll have to try that.
I found it a satisfactory experience. When you read, you don't necessarily appreciate how the words are chosen and the way they're put together...taking a story or novel and typing it out forces you to consider all of it. (Come to think of it, that's how I revise.)
As I recall, I tried it with several short stories and a Silverberg novel (one that's always fascinated me though it's not one of his better-known ones). I made it through the short stories, but only got (I think) five or six chapters into the novel before I lost interest in doing it. It was all back in my typewriter days; the resulting MSS may still be lying around somewhere in my files.
I've gotten a third of thew way through Fahrenheit 451. I think it's a good exercise. A whole novel takes some serious work, but I'm going to try to finish it.
Posts: 1895 | Registered: Mar 2004
| IP: Logged |
Natej11, I have, at times, had a similar problem with reading aloud. The words will go in my eyes and out my mouth and, as you say, barely brush my thoughts. (And I'll have to go back over the text, reading it silently, to "get" what I just read out loud.)
I also have found that when I am reading something that really works for me, I don't see the words any more. I am seeing the story. The words just disappear, and I visualize what I'm reading as if I were watching a movie.
So I have to do something drastic, such as the suggestions above, to really "get" what an author is doing in something I love.
If you have "transcription syndrome" (copy-typing goes in one eyeball and out the other) try copying by hand instead. My observation is that writing by hand is at least partly processed via the brain's speech centers, while typing bypasses that aspect and relies more on physical memory -- so the two are not equivalent as learning activities.
On a serious note, I do think the reverse-engineering of someone else's work is invaluable. My wife and I often do it with movies discussing "why is that scene there?" Often cuz its Monk and we want to solve the mystery first. But it helps me to remove extra scenes from my stories.