Making the Great Novels into Your Own

*Today’s essay is from Fine Lines Senior Editor Stu Burns

Writers Read, Right?

A while back I read the first draft of a friend’s novel then punched out my critiques and advised her to read more novels. This would give her a sense of how she could finish her work and take it to a more mature conclusion. That was the diplomatic version. Privately, I was wondering if she had ever read a novel. As I typed, I looked at the reflection in my monitor’s glare and realized I was staring at a hypocrite.

reading quote

I was trying to write my own novel at the time, an entry in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) creative project I’d floundered on the previous November. I am a voracious reader, but mostly of nonfiction; I will argue all night that the life of Moe Berg is more interesting than anything J.D. Salinger ever wrote. Novels had never been something I looked forward to. When I read them, it was out of obligation, either for school or after years of prodding.

If I was going to be able to write my own fiction, I had to read novels and like them. In other words, it was time I indulged in outright thievery. There is a much-abused quotation from T. S. Eliot:

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