Read often and widely

I have often seen it said that the main requirement for a writer is to write, write, write. That’s true, of course. But I would add a corollary: in order to be a writer, you need to read, read, read.

Mind you, I grew up in a library (my mother was a librarian, then a library director, and my first job was as a “Page,” shelving books and working the front desk), so I think EVERYONE should read, read, read. Seriously—it’s good for your brain.

But more than this, I think one of the best ways to learn to be a good writer is to read good books. I have a lot of authors I love to read, but I have a few I actually STUDY. Their writing is so clear, their use of words, or development of characters, or world-building so far above average; their work is like a textbook of “to do’s” for anyone who wants to improve their own writing. (Of course, the books are just plain fun to read, too.)

But even the not-so-good books have something to teach. If an author makes a mistake that jars me out of their carefully constructed world, I make a mental note to try not to do the same thing. If there is something about a novel that “bugs” me, I make an effort to figure it out, so I can avoid bugging my own readers in the future.

Each book is a classroom, full of lessons on how to write—or how not to.

Of course, books are much more than that. They are my therapy; refuge from a world that is often harsh and unpleasant. They are my friends, who keep me company on a long winter’s night. And they play well with others (I’m thinking of a glass of wine and a cat, but feel free to pick your own companions).

I have extremely eclectic tastes in reading, which makes sense, since I write in many genres as well. I love a good urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but women’s fiction and romance can be wonderful when the characters are solid and the story believable. And don’t try to tell ME that chicklit is dead—I love a story with humor and heart. I also like mysteries, science fiction, young adult, and even some books that are shelved with the “Juvenile” (Madelyn L’Engle’s books, for instance, which appeal to any age). And I started reading fantasy with Andre Norton as a child, and never stopped loving imaginary worlds in all shapes and sizes.

Really, my only problem with reading is that, like any other junkie, I spend too much money on my addiction…and as you can see, I insist on “pushing” it to others. Still, don’t worry about what the neighbors will say; go read a book. Go ahead…you know you want to.

Deborah Blake

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10 responses to “Read often and widely

  1. 😀 I completely agree with you! (I will have to elaborate more when I’ve had my coffee.)

  2. Jar O' Marbles

    A couple years ago I spent so much money on new books, that I started a new rule. For every book that I buy, I have to read at least one or two from the library.

  3. Raymond Bolton

    For anyone who is published or hoping to be, it is essential to study the competition. When I was writing fantasy, I read a lot of fantasy. I thought my latest novel would be considered urban fantasy because it is set in Manhattan and incorporates an angel, but I was told I had switched genres and had actually written a thriller. Now I read thrillers. But I also read outside those genres. Writers like Hemmingway and Kingsolver have a lot to teach.

    • I love Kingsolver. I read a lot of things I don’t want to write, or can’t (I love Magical Realism, for instance, and have no idea how to do it–which is weird, all things considered).

  4. nancyholzner

    I agree with every word you wrote! I also think there’s a sort of osmosis that happens when you read a lot. You develop a sense of rhythm and pacing, of what good dialogue sounds like, that you may not be able to articulate (or you may!), but you come to “know” how these things sound.

    • Raymond Bolton

      Yes, Nancy. There is much about the craft one cannot easily articulate, but ya’ know it when ya’ see it.

      BTW, welcome to Black Ink, White Paper. Drop by often.

  5. Deb, you don’t have to sell me on reading. It’s my addiction. I buy books every week. I have a to be read pile that’s in the hundreds – addiction, remember? If I don’t have many mnay many books to read, just in case, I panic. But I’m absolutely certain that I got published because I’d been reading a book a day for 30 years. Everything I know about writing I learned from reading.

    Kate

  6. “Of course, books are much more than that. They are my therapy; refuge from a world that is often harsh and unpleasant. They are my friends, who keep me company on a long winter’s night. And they play well with others (I’m thinking of a glass of wine and a cat, but feel free to pick your own companions).”

    I am right there with you, I love reading for this very purpose, I also agree about reading to write. I have been reading nothing but young adult since it is my chosen genre. I have learned so much abotu perspective and different ways of writing stories..

    I always love reading your blog posts

  7. Hear hear! I read in almost every genre, stuff I will never write anything like. I do that because I love every genre, but I also end up reading a lot of GREAT authors that way, because if I’m only going to read a few sci fi books a year, a few mysteries, a few teen books, I want to read the award winners, or the classics, or the books that always make the “changed my life” lists. Ahhh so many books, so little… Thanks for the nice post. 🙂

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