Read, Read, and Read Some More
What’s on the iPod – Poison & Wine by the Civil Wars
You’ve probably heard it a million times, from best-selling authors like Stephen King to Judy Blume to George R.R. Martin. Above all the other pieces of advice they give to writers, it’s this: READ, and read widely.
Today, I’m going to tell you why this really is the BEST advice every author can gain.
Okay, I see you rolling your eyes and saying, “But Cate, I do read. At least when I can, in between posting all over social media, between writing pages, between deadlines, between fixing dinner and putting little ones to bed.”
BUT are you reading with a critical eye? Okay, I’ll be honest, I just don’t like that phrase – critical eye. SO, let’s put it another way – are you reading to learn a new craft technique? To learn something you need to add to your own writing? As authors, we should ALWAYS be learning new things, developing our words better, making our plots stronger. I won’t lie; this is a very hard thing to do when all you want is to read that book by your favorite author for pleasure, to escape back into Shadowhunter country, erhm, you know what I mean.
So, why am I bringing this up? Well, I do lots of reading. These days it’s more clients’ work and requested material. But I don’t think I would be a very good agent, let alone author, if I didn’t temper my work reading with pleasure reading. For a long time now, I always read with the above intention – to learn something new. And it’s just an intention, because sometimes I just get lost and forget that I am supposed to be studying sentence structure, plot technique, character arcs. BUT sometimes I read something, forgetting my goal, and when I am done, I realize I did learn something. That’s the best!
So two days ago I finished the amazing Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows. I started reading for pleasure, for something fantasy while I waited for the latest episode of Game of Thrones to air. But what I took away was even more than the amazing story. It was a personal take-away. I realized, as I was biting my nails for the heroine and even had to stop at one point because I was so fearful for the MC that I couldn’t go on – well at least for an hour – I realized that I finally UNDERSTOOD what I was lacking in my own writing – FEAR. It was the lightbulb in my head switching on. Sure, I’ve read hundreds of craft books on this, on the importance of creating fear for your MC, but sometimes it takes FINDING it so well done in another book for it to sink in.
So my lesson for you, is ALWAYS be reading. And try to be learning something new, but don’t fret if you don’t. Sometimes it takes reading the right story to grasp the technique.
Happy Reading and Writing!
It’s worth saying that sometimes it’s good to read not-as-professional work, too, whether it’s beta reading or judging contests or picking random free Kindle books or whatever. As much as reading *good* fiction has helped me, reading *mediocre* fiction has really helped me, too – sometimes I’ll realize I’m bored/annoyed/etc. and figuring out WHY has definitely made me a better writer. You can say “show don’t tell” all day long, but it’s not until you read a “tell-y” scene that you realize “oh, THAT’S why! And this is what it feels like when it’s wrong!”
I’ll add the disclaimer that I tend to be a very logic-focused writer – I plot the hell out of everything first, I mathematically derive my pacing, etc. – so I really love having some concrete rules to follow. Extreme pantsers might not appreciate this quite the same way 😛 but I really do think it’s valuable to keep an eye on all the stages of writing as you go.
Absolutely! With reading work that just isn’t there yet, you definitely see the mistakes clearly, some times I think they stand out more because you know or have mastered that technique or craft element.