Endless education …

My interests are eclectic.

Since childhood, I have pursued avenues of study that interested me. When I decided to become a writer, I decided that I needed to be a better reader. So, while writing for anyone who would hire me to write, I set out to read any book that  was worth reading.

It took eight years to read Ulysses by James Joyce. I started the book eight times, and seven times I put it aside before I finally read it cover to cover during an eight month process.

In college, one of my failures had been in the reading of Catch-22, so I read it 13 times until I understood its structure and understood the roots of the humor in the story.

I read all of William Faulkner until I realized I was writing like him.

I have read Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano a dozen times. I get as much pleasure in the writing now as I did the first time.

I read all of Hemmingway, Tom Wolfe, F. Scot Fitzgerald, W.O. Mitchel, Mordecai Richeler, Margaret Atwood, Norman Mailer, Thomas Mann, Gunther Grass, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorges Borges, John Le Carre,  and hundreds of other writers.

One thing I cannot read is formulaic fiction. I don’t mind genres in films and accept formulaic film structure as a necessity, but in books I cannot read formula writing.  I have read a little of Stephen King, the books of his that had less to do with supernatural hocus pocus (Shawshank Redemption, for example) and more to do with human problems. I even like Running Man as good sci fi.

When I decided to become a better photographer, I shot film, tons of it, and looked at what worked and what didn’t work. One year I threw away 3000 slides and kept 60. I shot a medium format camera for a while and began to frame the images better, taking time to think about what was captured by the film. Then I shifted to a 35 mm pocket camera and applied the medium-format techniques to my photography.

When I decided I needed to become more connected as a visual artist, I took sculpture and drawing courses, I read art books, and I hung out with artists when I was in the writing program at the Banff School of Fine Arts.

I wrote screenplays for a number of years and it gave me insight into film structure. Screenplays are only about 15,000 words long, which is shorter than novella length. Screenplays suggested similarities to graphic novels and I started dabbling in those a few years ago because I could produce my movies on paper without having to have a director or producer or big budget crew involved in the films I wanted to write.

My point is that the education of a writer is an ongoing process. This blog is yet another dimension of that education. I’m not sure what I’m trying to learn here, but I expect to learn a lot and hone skills that will make me a better illustrator and better writer.

John Shinnick

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