Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Schizophrenic writing: Do you suffer too?

Just about every single writing tip can be boiled down to what Stephen King put down in his book, On Writing: "All writers should read a lot and write a lot."

It seems simple, really, and my writing for this blog has certainly honed certain aspects of my writing. And I've never stopped reading/listening to books when I write my fiction. But I do come across a certain schizophrenic aspect of my writing and I'm wondering if I'm not alone.

You see, most of my reading is crime fiction and, of that, most of it consists of hard-boiled material. As a result, I read a lot of shorter sentences with great Pulp Words and Phrases and those seep into my writing. Nothing wrong there. However, when I do decide to read something of a different genre, I discover my writing style shifts. Take my current reading project, Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. It's one of the most elegantly written books I have ever read. He has fun with words and writes flowery sentences that could stand side-by-side with great literature. Now, in my day job (tech writer), I've been accused of writing too flowery often but not in my fiction. As I wrangle words for my current story, I find the hard-boiled self and the flowery self at war with each other. The resulting mess is something akin to verbal vomit.

Anybody else have that kind of war within themselves? If so, what do you do about it? I'd hate to tell myself not to read certain kinds of books when I think everything I read goes into making me a better writer. Maybe I'm just working out something via words, finding my true writer self. Elmore Leonard once said that it took him a million words written before he found his true voice. If that's the threshold...


stewbie2 said...

Like anything you plant, writing grows, too. No matter what you read, you're planting new seeds in your head, and therefore, in your writing. Just read, read, read, and write, write, write. Schizophrenic writing is fabulous--shows that you're multi-faceted. :)

Barbara Martin said...

The books I read are in different genres to keep abreast of current types of stories the publishers are buying. Though, to be honest, the books are in genres that I am currently working in.

Though to get back to the crux of your question, after years of business writing I tend to continue to write strongly in my stories. This has to be later modified into a smoother, easier read for a general audience while keeping strength in the words themselves.

What you have to do, Scott, is incorporate some of that 'flowery' language into your hard-boiled writing in bits, i.e. a descriptive phrase that brings deeper meaning. If Dan Simmons can do it, so can you.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think you have to find your own style and write the sort of stories that come with it. Just because you like pulpy doesn't mean that's the best style for you to write. But then again, I have trouble placing my stories sometimes because of this. Maybe you're young enough to bend your style.

sandra seamans said...

You are not alone. I can't write and read Robert Parker at the same time. I start channeling his dialogue, cute quips and all.

As for your verbal vomit, that's what rewriting is for. I've cut some of the most beautiful phases I've ever written in rewrites because they didn't fit the voice of the story (sigh).

Jacob Weaver said...

In the short time I've been writing I can see my writing being influenced by what ever I'm currently reading. I haven't gone back over my older pages but I notice it as I'm writing.

I think there is a difference between being derivative and influenced. Ross MacDonald would be a great example. His first few stories were Chandler rip offs, although they were still good. He eventually created his own style that was influenced by Chandler but still sounded like something completely new.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I love ON WRITING - and I hate HOW TO WRITE books. Steve's is kind of an anti-how to write book that tells you how to write.

Schizophrenic reading - definately and writing too. Maybe we pigeonhole people and ourselves into one genre too easily.

Anonymous said...

I have this problem too!

I know that everything I read comes out in subtle ways when I write, so I'll frequently plan my reading in the hopes that it informs what I'm working on. Right now I'm working on a hard-boiled border town sci-fi crime thing, so everything I'm reading is supposed to help me fill the page in some respect: essays on Mexican-American identity, pulpy crime, dystopian sci-fi, blogs on nanotechnology, etc.

Hopefully it all ends up on the keyboard in some coherent fashion. I'll break out the scalpel when the time come to edit, I just want to make sure I'm reading stuff that helps me make the work as rich as possible.

Anonymous said...

By the way--

I've just stumbled on your blog today, and it's a real pleasure to meet another Texas hard-boiled guy! I look forward to keeping up with the blog from here on.

Scott D. Parker said...


Thanks for stopping by! Gonna check out your blog now.

Jay Stringer said...

i hate to do a crass lyric quote, but as the song goes "i'm a million different people from one day to the next."

I've just decided to go with the flow regarding my shifting 'voice' and my reading habits, each project is different and has different phrasing and structure.

The more i write, the more i get a sense of my own style coming through, even though each story is different.

I do tend to find that i go through periods of reading harboiled, and periods of reading light and fluffy.