Have I Missed Something?

Once in a while I get this feeling that I have missed something and that I have chosen a wrong career. How I wish sometimes that I had studied English Literature in university instead. My love of books and writing goes way back and I have this desire to sit in a classroom and discuss books and writing with the professor. My daughter tells me it’s not too late and that I can still do it. But then I remember what Gore Vidal said when asked if he thinks college English courses can influence a career or teach one about The Novel:

“I don’t know. I never went to college. Those English courses are what killed literature for the public. Novels used to be written simply to be read. Who needs to be taught how to read a contemporary novel? Either you read it because you want to or you don’t. Assuming of course that you can read anything at all.”

And then I come across the following paragraph by Wallace Spencer:

“Are you a reader? If you aren’t a reader, you might as well forget to be a writer. I don’t think it’s necessary to take a lot of courses in English literature. I sound prejudiced against the English Departments, but in a sense, if you had some kind of guidance, if you had a tutor who could suggest books for you to read, it would be better, I think than taking regular English Department courses. Their training is all in the other direction, all analytical, all critical. It’s all a reader’s training, not a writer’s training, so they have no notion of how to approach the opportunity.”

And in the words of Stephen King:

“I took my fair share of English Lit classes in my two remaining years at Lisbon, and my fair share of composition, fiction, and poetry classes in college, but John Gould (editor of Lisbon’s weekly newspaper) taught me more than any of them, and in no more than ten minutes.”

When Clive Cussler was asked what advice he can give to starting writers, he said:

“My advice? Copy someone else! Find a successful author you idolize in the genre you are interested in and copy, not plagiarize the story, but the writing style.”

Mario Vargas Llosa who had studied law and literature in University of San Marcus in Lima, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, wrote:

“Faulkner was the first novelist I read with pen and paper in hand, because his technique stunned me. He was the first novelist whose work I consciously tried to reconstruct by attempting to trace, for example, the organization of time and place, the breaks in the narrative, and the ability he has of telling a story from different points of view in order to create a certain ambiguity, to give it added depth.”

Tom Wolfe who had majored in English in university wrote:

“On the other hand, when you start playing with your structure in fiction, it’s like pulling a thread in a sweater. Everything begins to go in ways you never dreamed of. So I had a continual problem with that; I found myself reworking and rethinking chapters on the spot. I became very much interested in how people had done this successfully. I read a lot of Zola and Dickens and Dostoyevsky with this in mind. I came to the conclusion that the master of the form was Zola.”

And finally, when I come across the following paragraph by Catherine Cookson:

“If I was talking to someone who wants to write, I would say;
“Read, read and keep reading.” To those who say,
“My grammar isn’t right”, or
“I know nothing about punctuation” and so on, I say again, “Read, read and keep reading.””

I know I haven’t missed anything.


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4 Responses to Have I Missed Something?

  1. I love your quotes. They have provided good advice. Read, read and read some more, that’s what I tell the students I talk to about writing. I didn’t take many English lit classes, myself, but have always been an avid reader. It hasn’t done me any harm. In fact, it has helped spark my imagination which, in turn, has inspired many a story. 🙂

  2. marisaporter says:

    I agree. I did not major in writing in college BECAUSE I loved it. I majored in something I loved less. I was so afraid to have my love of words slaughtered! Silly? Maybe.

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