What? Writers can’t find time to write and now you want us to read?
I believe it was Stephen King in his famous book “On Writing,” who said, “If you want to be a reader you must do two things: Read a lot and write a lot.”
Never have I been more convinced than this year. Let’s rewind last year after my dad died I found a companion in my books. My most trusted and loyal friends. From CS Lewis to Ann Cleeves, I devoured everything. Of course I had set my Goodreads challenge to 60 but through no conscious effort surpassed that number by reading 72 books.
Soon after I found two of my manuscripts chosen for publication, with two more receiving R & R’s and realized my writing had changed a lot through reading. So this year I made an effort to get my reading in order. As of today I’ve read 100 books, the latest being “Hooked” by Nir Eyal. So here I list a few reasons why you should read and then next week I”ll share a post on how you can make time to read.
-To find out what works
Let’s start with the obvious advantages. You want to know what works. For romance, you have to know the standard tropes. If you know them well you can twist them well. Published books have a certain structure, dialogue, and cadence that you should emulate if not learn from. If you want to nail this in your own manuscript, you need to start reading your predecessors who have successfully done so.
-To find out what doesn’t work
There are some books you just hate and some character that make you want to beat up someone. Those TSTL(Too stupid to live heroines) that we hate so much, guess what, we write them up too. You think it works for your own story. But when you read books with similar characters, you begin to see the problems with your own work. Bad books teach you good lessons.
-To enrich your vocabulary
I love when I find a new word in a book. I enjoy finding myself challenged when I don’t know what a word means. If I have to take out my dictionary then wow. This means I expand my own word base for my next work, and trust me adding new words to your work, does help. I love when an editor makes a comment in the corner of my manuscript saying, “I didn’t know this.”
-To learn plot and pace
You know those books where you’re going at 90 miles an hour flipping page after page only to find it end like a giant fart, those books which disappoint. You don’t want to be like them. By reading good books you can learn how to vary the pace and write plots that are not cookie cutter plots that millions of other books are plugging. Read t understand pace. How to vary it into a jog, a run, a hike and a walk.
-To learn dialogue
I’ve only recently learned how not to write on the nose dialogue. I’m one of the writers who likes to spoon feed my readers. Tell them everything, tie all the ends in pretty little bows and not encourage much thinking. So my dialogues are very straightforward. But in reality we don’t talk like that. After the many books I’ve read, I’ve studied how not to do this. It’s painful while I write, but it makes reading conversation in my manuscript very vibrant.
-To understand setting and location
When I’m writing about a place I’ve never been to I read other novels set in that time period or location, just to be able to understand and get the setting and feel of the place. There’s something different to the green of Ireland and the shimmery lochs of Scotland or the powdery white sand of Florida. Read books to understand the location you’re setting your own manuscript in.
-To understand the competition
As writers, many of our queries and pitches require comp titles. I’ve done a post on this. You need to be able to tell an agent or editor or publisher why your 101st book on vampires is better than the 100 books already out there on the same trope. Besides once you start writing, you have to produce a book that far outshines all those other books.
-To build conversation fodder
Books are great conversation material. If there’s a book I’m really passionate about I can be a salesperson because I will talk to anybody and everybody about it. Imagine if you’re going to a conference for writers and agents, or you’re at a pitch contest, talking about books you love can be great conversation. It’s not supposed to be reserved for book clubs only.
-To remind yourself why you’re writing
Not for the money, not for the fame. But for those lone readers who are going through a hard time and seeking a loyal companion in your book. For the readers who seek comfort and escape from their life. For the reader who wants to smile, fall in love, experience adventure or see a new location through your words. Because that’s what drew you in the first place. To read and find joy. Then when you couldn’t find it in the stories that existed, you decided to write your own.
Bad books teach you good lessons.
How has your reading program gone on this year? How do you use it to write?