January 19, 2015

Why Writers Should Read A Lot

Me & my daughter - riverside reading
When asked what advice I have for beginning writers I usually include, “Read a lot.” I truly believe it’s an important step to developing your own writing voice. The funny thing is I no longer consider myself a beginning writer – I’d probably classify myself as emerging. Yet I’ve realized the advice is still valid.

Recently I’ve had a run of what I consider lackluster books. The writing is decent. The plots are fine. But in the end there isn’t enough to really make me want to talk about them to anyone. Maybe there is little or no chemistry between the characters. Usually there are no surprises.

I almost always read through to the end of these books, hoping something will happen to redeem them in the end. Then when it doesn’t I’m left feeling like it was a waste of my very precious reading time to have invested in a “formula” story. Guess what. It wasn’t a waste at all!

This is the exciting part…

As I’m reading stories that hold little of my attention, I’m mentally skimming my own works-in-progress to make sure I’m not writing a “formula” book. I’m trying to recognize missed opportunities in my story when the characters can react in unexpected ways or where the results of their actions can become a surprise that will turn the story in a different direction.

See why reading is important? Why reading all you can – the good, the bad, the boring, the thrilling – is crucial to YOUR writing? It’s just pure bonus that it’s also fun. Well, usually.

What have you learned from reading?

12 comments:

  1. Good point, Kai. I never thought about it that way. I'll look at those books I just can't get into in a different way now and see what I can learn from them. No matter how long a person has been writing, there's always something new. Thanks.

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    1. There is always something to learn or re-learn, isn't there? Glad I could give you a new outlook to the less thrilling reads. :)

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  2. So true, Kai! I've been feeling a little lackluster about a lot of my reading lately too. Not sure why, but it does work to show a writer what not to do. One of my reading goals this year is to step out of my usual reading habits and try some new things. Maybe that will help inspire my own writing in unexpected ways.

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    1. Yep, once you are steeped in books written for your intended audience, it is important to step outside that zone. You can learn to add suspense to a fantasy by reading mysteries. You can learn to add angst by reading issues books. Oh my gosh, for some reason I feel like such a book geek right now. Snort.

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  3. Great point, Kai. I've started to read books and put them down after the first couple of chapters...when I should have stopped and analyzed why it wasn't working! Gee, you may have me picking up those books for a second look.

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    1. Yep, even if you only read until you figure out why it isn't working. If it is simply because you don't like the main character's personality - then toss it aside. That's a personal preference. But if it is because of a predictability or lack of building suspense - then it's good to identify that and then toss it aside.

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  4. I've learned a lot from reading. In the beginning, everything I knew about writing was from reading books by Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowling.

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    1. Uh - great place to start! Lol. But yes, we need to witness the bad, too.

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  5. Great advice, Kai! I truly believe a lot can be learned by reading books we don't enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Yep, it might take us a bit longer to slog through it when we don't like it, but at least it can be made worth our while.

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  6. Most people interpret "reading" here as reading BOOKS. But it really does not have to be. I am a research-centric writer -- this goes with writing non fiction history. So I am always READING -- just not NOVELS. I read news articles, scientific journals, academic papers, and so forth. Most of it is short (I am low vision; my eyes will not tolerate more than 5-10 pages at a time) so I can rest my eyes and take care of my health.

    And I believe I am reaping exactly the same benefits and probably more by doing it this way instead of reading novels.

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    1. Excellent point, Laurel. I don't read much non-fiction, so I often forget to consider it. But reading is reading no matter how long. You are still achieving the same take-away on craft, also.

      Brava for overcoming your sight challenge and persevering in your writing.

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