There is a ton of things that go into being a good writer, as we’ve discussed here. You’re not just writing, or just editing, or just revising. You’re also learning all the time. This business changes all the time, and you’ve got to keep on top f things. The good thing is, you’re keeping on top of something really fun, reading. That’s right, you’re best tool in writing is to read and read and read.
You’ve got to read in your field and out of it. You’ve got to read short stories and long novels. Read good books and bad. Banned books and socially acceptable ones. There is so much to be learned from reading.
When Reading Good Books–
Soak up grammar rules. A lot of our rules are confusing and hard to remember. But if you’re accustomed to looking at our language for long periods of time, really hearing it in your head as you read, you’ll find yourself knowing when it’s right and when it’s wrong. You might not know the rule something’s breaking when it’s wrong, but you will know that it is wrong.
By the way, if you are interested in learning some grammar, read Elements of Style. It’s short, but madly useful.
You’ll also develop an ear for good storytelling. You know when you read something, and it resonates, because it’s honest, or because a part of your heart just jumps out at it? You learn to spot that, and with luck, you can learn to write it.
Another reason you want to read, especially your own genre, is to know what other people are doing. It’s not to mimic what they’re doing. It’s to know. You can’t know if you’re doing the same thing as everyone’s doing if you have no idea. You can’t know what’s already been done a million times, and what might actually be cutting edge. After all, everything is new if you’re not reading those kinds of books.
When Reading Bad Books–
And you should read bad books. (Maybe not Twilight, though. Just saying.) I make a point of picking up random books in the horror and fantasy genres. Some are great, some are really bad. I learn a lot from the bad books. For instance, I learn what doesn’t work. When I read a bad book, and I say, “Wow, that blows,” I then take it a step further than that. Why does it suck? Is the story line poor? Is the dialog bad? Do the characters fall flat? These are things to avoid.
I also like to ask myself, why did this get published, if it’s so bad. There’s a book that’s going to be made into a movie this year, that a lot of people really liked. I did not. But it’s being made into a movie anyway. So, I ask myself why. There’s something in this bad story that was so good that it was published even though it was really bad. What might happen if I learned how to do that, and put it in a good book? I’ll tell you what, best seller!
There’s also a big dose of optimism in a bad book. After all, if this trash got published, surely I’ll be eventually. You too, I bet. I mean, Twilight was published, after all. So was Ann Rice. Just all of her books. They were bad, and I thought they were bad when I was a creepy goth chick in high school.
If you learn nothing else from this blog, learn to fit reading into your everyday life. I read every night, at least a half an hour. I read in the bath, and on the way to work. I love my tablet because I’ve always got a handful of books with me. My love of reading is something that has always been with me, and it’s something that I share with every person in my life. If I’ve got nothing else to talk about, I talk about books. Someday, people are going to be talking about mine.
What book have you read that you’ve learned the most from?
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