I’ve been reading a lot lately about the process of writing. One of the books that is so often quoted by other writers is On Writing, by Stephen King. The book is fabulous, no matter how you feel about his other works, and I found myself highlighting section after section in the vain hope that I will somehow be able to apply some of his wisdom to my own writing. I especially liked what he had to say on the importance of reading as a writer.
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."
King goes on to explain that he carries a book with him everywhere so that he will always have something to read. In describing his daily habits, it seems he reads at least as much as he writes and the man writes for several hours every single day of the year!
Why is this important? How does reading help us to be better writers?
First of all, reading ignites our imagination. A good book encourages us to think and ask questions, to look at the world a little differently. To wonder, “what if....” This is invaluable as a writer. It is often hard to find inspiration, but good books offer it to us in heaps.
Secondly, reading exposes us to good writing. One of the best ways to learn to be a fabulous writer is to follow the example of other fabulous writers. Sure, you could go to writing classes and learn many helpful things from professors, but if you really want to write well, all you need to do is pick up a talented author’s work and study it. Ask yourself, "How did they do it?" Then, practice. Rewrite a paragraph or two in the style of your chosen author. What is different between your work and theirs? Is it the word choice? The sentence structure? How do they express emotion? Describe action? How do they handle a transition from one scene to the next?
An example that always comes to my mind is Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling's first book astounds me in its simplicity and its intrigue. I find myself wanting desperately to implement her style. How easy it would have been for her to over explain every detail of her new and fascinating world. That would have been my temptation. Instead, she gives you just enough to create your own picture and then she moves on with the story. I have to admit, I have read that first book many times trying to gain a grasp on exactly how she does it. To me, that is Harry Potter’s true magic.
Even a poorly written book can be useful to us who are learning to write. Sometimes it is easier to understand why we should “follow the rules” after we have witnessed the breaking of rules. Have you ever read a horrible book and thought, “Wow. I could do better than that! How on earth did this get published?” Well, to me, that is the greatest value in a poorly written book. It convinces me to go back to my notes and keep writing. After all, if that author got paid for their awful book, surely someone will pay me for mine! And then I pay careful attention to what made that book so painful to read so that I avoid the same mistakes.
How often do you read? Do you read only when someone forces you or do you choose to read for entertainment? Start paying attention to what you are reading and see if you can discover what makes your favorite books so wonderful. Then, practice some of the same in your own writing. Need an idea for a new book to read? Come back tomorrow and I’ll share a fun new book with you as I review TEEN Agents: The Plundered Parent Protocol.