Craft,  Writing Ideas

READ

You do not need a degree in English or journalism to be a writer, but you do need to be a reader. At least, to be a “good” writer you need to be a reader. And you need to read wonderful books and terrible books. Why? Because you learn from both.

Whether you’re a person who says, “I’m going to write a book one of these days” or have written dozens and dozens of books, don’t stop reading. Read the classics, literary works, contemporary, traditionally published and self-published. Read as a writer, not as a reader. Think about what holds your attention and what parts you skip over. And if you skipped over a part of the story, why?

Consider what you want to write. Read what’s being published nowadays. How is it formatted? Is there a lot of dialogue? Lots of white space on the page? Or are there long paragraphs? What words are commonly used for the type of book you are writing? Easy to understand words or do you occasionally need to look one up? And if so, does that add to your enjoyment of the book (you learned something) or detract? What is the length of sentences (long? short?). Is the grammar proper (what you learned in school) or does the writer use fragmented sentences?

Analyze how the story is constructed, if it’s written in first person or third, present tense or past, close point-of-view or multiple points-of-view (which can also be close or distant). Or, is the story told by a narrator? Do the characters seem real? Can you suspend belief for events that don’t seem real or reasonable or do you shake your head and say, “Wouldn’t happen.”?

Are the spelling errors and grammar errors acceptable to you (even well edited books have them) or are there so many they stop your reading pleasure?

Reading can show you how various genres and publishing houses use or don’t use italics, commas, parentheses, em dashes, ellipses, etc.

If you’re still stuck at home, READ. If you’re working and come home exhausted, pour yourself a beverage, sit down, and pick up a book, your iPad, or e-reader and READ. It’s amazing how much you can learn by reading.

10 Comments

  • Paula Geister

    This is all really good advice and I’m constantly ‘reviewing’ books in my head whether I intend to write a review or not.

    One thing I’ve learned from reading audio books is how both narration and dialogue need to have a sensible flow. I think this, more than anything, has reminded me how important it is to read my writing aloud. We may not even realize it while we’re writing, but we also write for the ear.

    And for what it’s worth, even if our book never makes it to audio, I believe people actually ‘speak’ the book as they go along. They may be hearing their favorite actor, comedian, or scholar. Who knows? We’re responsible for making the voice sound real.

    • Maris Soule

      Good points, Paula. Word 365 has a READ ALOUD option in its REVIEW section. I occasionally click on that to hear how something I’ve read sounds and I’m amaze by how it catches typos I’ve missed.

  • Clarice

    So true and good points. I’ve just finished a last book for a series and I’m determined to make it the best ever. I’ve edited it 5 times and I’m starting to read it aloud after a brief time reading other writers. Going back and reading it like it was written by someone else helps pop those errors out like nothing else.

    • Maris Soule

      “…like it was written by someone else.” Good way of thinking about your writing, Clarice. Also, allowing some time to pass between reads helps. For a final edit, I think it’s good to wait at least two weeks before looking at the work again.

  • Susan Payne

    I try not to read when writing the same genre so that I don’t unintentionally change my voice. I do usually keep reading and have recently gone back and covered several of my past stories. Seeing if they’ve held up over time. But I find I write what I like to read for the most part. Long, informational sentences with a ‘but’ thrown in every once in a while. Thanks for the ideas.

    • Maris Soule

      Susan, I sometimes find myself imitating the style of a writer I’m currently reading, but when I go through my manuscript at a later date, I always make changes that bring the writing back to MY voice.

    • Maris Soule

      My main problem, Jacquie, is finding time to read. You would think, being shut in as we are, that wouldn’t be a problem, but somehow the time just slips away.

  • Lucy Kubash

    I was an avid reader before I ever decided I wanted to write, and it remains my favorite pastime. I’m always inspired to keep writing when I read a good book.

    • Maris Soule

      Same here, Lucy. I’ve learned so much from reading other writers’ books: pacing, new ways of relaying backstory or information, and what sometimes doesn’t work.

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