As a writer, you can learn so much about the art of writing by reading. That seems like such a simple thing to do, but I’ve met people who want to write books – or say they do – but don’t like to read. I’ve also met people who want to write children’s books or write young adult books who don’t like young children or teens.
I can’t grasp these concepts.
Maybe some people think writing a book is easy. Maybe some others just want to ride the coattails of a hot market trend. Both thoughts are ludicrous. Writing is the hardest thing I can think of where the pay is lousy, until you actually get published and then don’t hold your breath or quit your day job just yet, friends! (Unless you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling; I’ve tried getting my name changed to Stephene King or J/K Rowling, but no dice. Besides, their actual bank accounts don’t come with the new names. Curses!) Those of us mere mortals who write, do it because we love it; because we have to. Also, anytime you write to try and capture a trend – vampire/pirates/werewolves/ghosts – you have already missed the trend, my friend. Editors acquired and planned release dates for years before those titles came out. If you really want to be a good writer, you should write from the gut-wrenching bottom of your soul the only story that you, your unique self, can tell. If it happens to be about a vampire pirate with a werewolf ghost best friend he must fight the urge to kill, but it comes from your heart, then by all means, write it. Write what you’re passionate about. Trust me, you’ll be with this story a long time; you don’t want to hate it. Write from what inspires you.
And don’t forget to read.
While it is important to read current books within the genre you are writing in – so you know that there are already a million-and-one vampire/pirate/werewolf/ghost stories out there, for one thing – that shouldn’t necessarily be all you read. After all, even eating the best tasting truffliest chocolate every day could possibly lose its appeal after a week or so. (I try to fast on Sundays so I don’t EVER have to find out.) I may have mentioned before that I was not the best student in high school – quite the devious slacker, in fact – and so I now find myself reading some of the books I faked my way through that I should have read back then. Call it high school survivor guilt. While I do read a healthy portion of YA, I also make it a point to read a good selection of classics and banned books every year, just to round out my own personal education. Last year, I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, which fulfilled many of the previous mentioned categories. I cannot believe such a beautifully written book – one that still stands up today – was ever banned anywhere. This is definitely a must-read for anyone who wants to read a perfect book. (A separate rant on my anti-censorship views will follow another time.)
In the end, it doesn’t matter so much what you read, just that you do read. No reading is wasted; you can learn something even from the worst book ever published, and yes, I’ve come across a book or two that I couldn’t imagine how they clawed their way out of the slush pile. When you find something you really love, read it once for enjoyment, then read it again and again as a writer. Ask yourself: What makes this work? How does the plot progress? Study it. Tear that book apart until you truly understand it. That is a master class in writing all by itself.
To encourage more reading from all of you, I’m starting a new page entitled What I’m Reading. There I will post every book I’ve read so far this year with a little snippet about each one to entice you. I also welcome all of your reading suggestions as I am always looking expand my horizons and discover new authors, myself.