Ulysses with an iPad

I am a third of the way through Ulysses, James Joyce’s famously unreadable and controversial work of literary genius, and I have made a crucial discovery. An iPad or similar device is an almost indispensable aid to enjoying a work as rich and allusion-packed as this.

I never like to read the introduction to a serious book until I am well into the text. I want to read it fresh, let it work its magic, then find out more later. I started to do this with Ulysses, ploughing through nearly 200 dense, funny, poetic, often incoherent pages, frequently losing the thread, until I weakened and read the introduction (by Cedric Watts in my Wordsworth Classics edition).

Sure enough, it has told me too much of the plot for my liking, but its mention of the “electronic web” opened my eyes.

Going back to the first page of Ulysses, I googled “Buck Mulligan” and was suddenly able to appreciate the opening scene’s extraordinary fusion of Greek myth and Catholic ritual. I am learning about literature and civilization while enjoying a brilliantly frank and witty exploration of the lives of ordinary people.

Ulysses with an iPad – not what Joyce had in mind when he wrote his monumental modernist work in 1922, but great fun, which I would recommend to anyone.

[Editor’s note: Why do we have a post about reading on a blog about writing? Because if you want to write well, you need to read well. We always include a list of recommended reading in our training courses.]

To write well, play to your strengths

Do you think of yourself as a bad writer? When I was at school I certainly thought I would never earn my living by writing. But here’s some encouragement from a writing coach whose newsletters I enjoy, Daphne Gray-Grant.

In a recent blog post, Daphne points out that writing involves many skills, not just one. But instead of making this an obstacle to success, she spurs us on.

“Surely”, she says, “you can find some part of the job that you enjoy.” You may be good at explaining technical things in simple language or describing things vividly. You may have an ear for quotes. You may be able to find something funny in almost any situation.

Daphne goes on: “There are many different skills that go into writing. Focus on the one(s) you’re good at and fake the rest. With more practice, you will get better. We all have different gifts… If we focus on what we can do, it’s easier to become better at everything else.”

I agree. Writing isn’t one skill that you’re either born with or you’re not. It’s a craft that can be learned with practice, reading and training. Do more of what you’re good at and you’ll get better at the rest.