As a follow up to what I wrote last week about getting away from your computer and getting to a bookstore… today I want to simply say this:
Yes, it’s that simple: You gotta read books!
You hear it all the time. As writers, we need to first be readers. I know most of you are readers. But I am shocked at how many writers confess to not reading widely in the genre they’re writing. Or any genre, for that matter. At one conference, I met with a lady who was writing a suspense. I asked who her favorite suspense authors were and she got that deer-in-the-headlights look, and hemmed and hawed. I felt bad for her because it was like she’d finally been found out! I gently suggested she take a break from writing and spend some time sitting on the front porch with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books. What could be wrong with that?
Of course, I wonder why anyone would even want to be a writer if they’re not a reader. I mean, is there a fashion designer who doesn’t like clothes? Would you be a lawyer if you didn’t care about the law?
But more importantly, if you are not well-read, you will not be a good writer. Period.
You should not only be a reader, but also pay attention to the quality of the books you read. You will naturally soak in the styles of writing that you’re reading. You will subconsciously learn about story structure and good dialogue and sentence construction and countless other aspects of writing. If you read nothing but bodice-ripper romances, don’t expect to sit down and write a literary masterpiece.
It’s a good idea to read outside of your natural preferences sometimes, too. Give yourself some variety, open yourself up to different styles, genres, topics. You’ll learn something and maybe even find a new interest. That’s why I like book clubs, since they usually encourage us to read books others have suggested, rather than our own choices.
Don’t mistake this post to mean I want you to write like other writers, or consciously emulate them (although that’s not always a bad idea when you’re a new writer). I just want you to enjoy yourself while learning to write better. And I want you to be an informed consumer of the product you are trying to sell.
And for those of you who are already readers, what have you been reading lately?