Reading and writing

I’ve recently been reading Ursula K Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft.

The format is she discusses a point about writing and then gets you, the reader, to attempt writing something that illustrates the theme she’s addressed in that chapter or section.

The chapter on sentences really made me think about some things that have always bothered me.

She gave an example various forms of sentence with examples taken from various classic works. I personally (as you may gather here) tend towards writing short ones. I often play with words though, so you don’t always get a straight meaning.

She quoted from Dickens, and other writers I’ve always had trouble with. One of the quotes began by naming something, and then spending a lot of time talking about how it affected all the different people in the story and their surroundings. In essence a very long sentence, or group of related sentences. She also says things like Jane Austen writes beautiful sentences that pay being read aloud.

I realised that the reason I have so much trouble with literary fiction and works is that I read for the plot and want to know what happens next.

My years of reading and writing corporate style documents, short sentences, bullet points, constructing easy to grasp breakdowns of complex ideas, has left me wanting to be able to get to the guts of the thing I’m reading rapidly. (See what I did there?)

So I skim. I’ve trained myself to read the first few words of a long paragraph and then dip in and out.

Badly written, repetitive corporate doublespeak is easy to read if you do this. Usually the signal to noise ratio is such that you can get the gist of most things pretty quickly. Literary, proper, writing does not repay this reading style. In fact it’s hard to make out what’s going on at all, which is what makes it so unrewarding for me.

So, I’ve set myself some homework. I’m going to vary my reading style depending on what I’m trying to read. I’m going to make myself work at what I read.

By the way – if you are writing a corporate document or how to guide or something of that style. Assume a reading age of about 12. Use pictures of before and after states rather than words. More than four sentences in a paragraph is putting cognitive load on your readers.

But now I will work harder, and enjoy reading more.

Have fun, people.