Saturday, October 22, 2011

If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader.


noun, verb (used with object)
1. to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.): to read a book, to read music.

It was the great Stephen King who said if you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. Or something to that effect. His advice is sound. More than that, it is necessary. Read everything you can get your hands on. Devour books like they are the chocolate bars you have hidden in the back of your fridge that no one knows about. Read before bed. Read before getting up. Read on the train. Read on the plane. Read in the coffee shop. Read instead of turning on the television. Read until your eyes hurt and your fingertips are smeared with black ink (or sore from clicking the next page button on your Kindle).

Read books. Read newspaper articles. Read CNN online. Read blogs. Read magazines (the National Geographic kind, not the Star People kind). Read fiction. Read autobiographies. Read things you don't want to read.

Confession: I am very guilty of the latter.  

I tend go in cycles with what I prefer to read. About a year ago I went on a Lisa Kleypas kick. Kleypas is renowned for her Regency Era romances. She has published well over twenty and I have read every single one of them more than once. When I finally caught up with her in real publishing time, I struggled to stay on the history romance train. I skipped through a few Jude Deveraux's. I reread some of my favorites by Johanna Lindsay (don't even get me started on her new crap). I discovered the delightful Julie Garwood. When I ran out of authors I liked, I went back to rereading Kleypas. In short, I refused to step out of the genre fence I had built around myself.

Before Kleypas it was Nora Roberts. Before her it was Harry Potter. Between Roberts and Kleypas it was (I am a little ashamed to admit) the infamous Twilight saga (also, for what it's worth, I do not believe Twilight should be classified as a saga. Harry Potter yes, a four book series about sparkly vampires no. Don't even get me started on Breaking Dawn Part I and Breaking Dawn Part II). Then something happened. Or rather, someone. My Aunt Sheila recommended a book series to me I had never heard of by an author I did not know. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Ring a bell?

A YA series set in the future that was half reality show and half war zone didn't sound too enticing at the time, but a few weeks later I purchased it on my kindle and got to reading.


Seven days later I finally came up for air after completing all three books. I don't think I've ever been so fully immersed in another world. I knew Katniss and Peeta. I cried for poor little Rue. I despised the Capitol. I cringed at the violence one person could do to another. I had nightmares about the Mutts.

I also learned a valuable lesson: don't be afraid to read what you don't think you'll like. I began to realize something as well. As my reading habits shifted, so did my writing. When I began my first "full length" novel I was in the midst of re-reading the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time while I waited impatiently for the final book. My main characters strongly resembled Harry, Hermione, and Ron with a little more romance thrown in for good measure. They went around trying to defeat the big bad sorceress in a fairy tale like setting. Long story short, my first attempt at writing a 70k word book sucked. But at least I finished it. The next book I started was set in Regency England. The one after that revolved around a vampire girl and her wanna be boyfriend. Around the time I read The Hunger Games I came to understand that I had no idea what genre I wanted to write or what type of author I wanted to be. I finally began to heed Mr. King's advice and read everything I could get my hands on. I bounced from genre to genre. Horror, YA, romance, dystopian... I refused to read the same type of book in a row. And you know what? It ultimately helped me discover what I wanted to write myself, and gave a uniqueness to my plot and characters I had failed to achieve before.

So what about you? Do you tend to read one specific type of book? Has your work ever reflected what you are reading? Do you know what type of author you want to be?


Jen said...

Great post, and so true. Read even what you think you won't like. At best, you'll find something awesome. At worst, you'll know what mistakes not to make in your own writing.

Poewin said...
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