Friday, July 23, 2010

Let's start at the beginning... ARE YOU READING?

Books, books...Image via Wikipedia
Okay, so pretty much every author out there will tell you that reading is key.  It's like the mother-lode.  It's the magic pill that everyone is trying to find. The one that, if taken on a daily basis, promises a life rich in knowledge and all that other warm fuzzy goodness AND it makes you a better writer.  I'm here to say it's true. 

"No one but a reader ever became a writer.  We write by the light of every book we ever read or had read to us."  Richard Peck 

I stand by this quote one million percent, because it is one million percent true.  Newbies, if you are not reading something right now- FOR FUN, FOR YOURSELF- then stop right now, go out and find something to read.
Don't feel bad if you aren't reading for pleasure.  I was there.  I remember.  When I was in college, I got sucked into a world where I read stuff "for school."  Then, because I did broadcasting production, I was in the studio ALL the time, and I was busy.  There was no time to read for fun.  It was COLLEGE.  

After college, I became an ADULT- and my reading "for fun" turned into a lot of nonfiction reading.  Which was good, I was reading across genres. (More on this in a moment).  But it wasn't until I had taught high school for FIVE YEARS, and I had settled into a "routine" that I felt comfortable with, that I realized I was missing something terribly.  I missed reading- for pleasure: curling up with a good book, not because I was going to give a test on it next week, but because I wanted to read it.

When I rediscovered my passion for reading the novels that I enjoyed, I rediscovered my passion for writing.  The quality of my writing increased.  My vocabulary improved.  Unknowingly, we mimic what we read.  We grow.  We are challenged.  

If you are trying to write something now, a novel, a short story, some poetry, but you aren't reading for pleasure- you are CHEATING YOURSELF.

The reading serves many purposes:

1. It stimulates your mind.  It gets you outside of your head. Right now, you focus so much on your world, your story.  Sometimes you need to get outside of all of that.  Give yourself some room to breathe, then creative juices will flow! 

2. It helps you to see what GOOD writing looks like.  C.S. Lewis said, "Don't read books, read authors.

Find someone you like, someone whose style you admire and then read the heck out of them.  Read every single thing they have ever written.  Get a feel for how they form phrases, how they describe images.  Are they known for their powerful characters? Their rich dialogue? Crafty plot twists?  You will soak up all this goodness, and it will show up in your writing.  Not as plagiarism- that is something else entirely- but as a support around which you can sculpt your own story.  Don't worry about copying, we aren't setting out to copy people- that's not what I am saying.  Just read.  Read, read, read, read.  Focus on their words and don't worry about your writing at all.  That will come in time.  

3. You will see what BAD writing looks like.  Reading widely also lets you see what DOESN'T work. Yes, even bad writers (in your opinion) get published.  (And some good writers don't get published.  Publishing is a business and it's not for everyone- more on that later too!)   In teaching we say that one NON-Example is worth three Examples.   

If you understand what something is NOT, then it is easier to identify what it IS.  Got it? 

4. You will see what is popular in your genre/ what is out there and what has already been done.  Okay, this is a tricky one.  Even WAY BACK IN BIBLE TIMES King Solomon said, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun." Yikes!  So, if there was nothing new way back then, there certainly isn't anything new now!  There will ALWAYS be stories about ghosts, and vampires, and magic, and witches, and demons, and love, and drugs, and sex, and families, etc. The ONLY difference is YOU.  What is your angle?  What is your take on the situation?  If everyone is telling a story about vampire/werewolf love triangles, then how can you make your story fresh?  Who says you even have to have vampires and werewolves? Remember newbies, if you are planning on getting your story published- it is a LONG road- we're talking at LEAST a year or two down the line, so think ahead of the curve.  The latest trend will be on the decline.  And while I'm on this soap box, don't write for trends.  PLEASE don't write for trends.  Write the story that's in your heart.  The one you want to hear, it will fit where it needs to.  If it is original, if it is yours, it can stand anywhere.  

So, as my students would say, "Are we straight?" YOU'VE GOTTA READ!  And reading those books on how to be a better writer DOESN'T COUNT!  If you are already reading something for fun GOOD FOR YOU!  *blows trumpet and throws confetti on your head* If you are not- GO OUT AND START READING SOMETHING NOW!   Take some time off of your writing to just read.  Your WIP* isn't going to go anywhere.  Just breathe, and take the time to remember why you fell in love with the written word in the first place.  I guarantee, you'll be better for it!  

*WIP=work in progress 

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