Wednesday, July 30, 2014

READ LIKE A WRITER

It looks like another evening without dinner for Jeanine
One of the most consistent, and in my experience, best, pieces of advice given would-be writers is to read.  The truth is, a good writer is also a good reader.  Reading fills your brain with ideas, and it gives you exposure to a wide variety of writing and influences.

Reading is a pastime which I hope never goes away and not only for selfish reasons (as a writer, clearly I have a vested interest in people reading).  There are distinct cultural benefits to a society full of readers, and to individuals to read and learn and grow by.  Reading stimulates not only the rational side of your mind, but the creative.  Even a bad book can help you envision things you've never thought of or seen before.

Reading books can inform about the past, it can expose you to ideas and cultures you are unfamiliar with, it can help shape your philosophies and thoughts on a topic, and it can broaden your understanding of life and people, and it can help you visit places you have not and perhaps cannot see or visit.

But there's more to reading as a writer.  As a writer, you have all of those benefits of reading, but there's another aspect that you need to keep in mind.  Simply reading is good, but reading as a writer is better.

As a writer, you should read with your author spectacles on.  These spectacles help you see how an author constructs interesting descriptions, they show how characters are developed.  Reading as an author means reading how dialog is written so well, how punctuation is used for dramatic effect, what the writer does to craft such an interesting plot.

Authors read not just for entertainment, but to learn how to hone their craft.  And this doesn't have to be an analytical or academic exercise.  Its a skill you learn as you read and write, to pick up on what is done well in the books you enjoy.

Nothing says you MUST read bad books, though
And what's more, it helps you learn from bad books, too.  Its almost universally recognized that books such as 50 Shades of Gray and the Twilight saga are poorly written.  Its okay to like bad books, I like some, too.  But an author should recognize they are bad, and what's more learn from why they are bad.  Seeing what to avoid, what makes that dialog so terrible, how those characters are so wooden and poorly developed and so on teach you as much or more as bad books.

In time, you can learn as an author to spot these flaws, bright points, and learning opportunities in all the fiction you encounter.  Why was that exchange between Captain America and Iron Man so effective in that scene?  What did they do so wrong in that episode of Burn Notice?  How can I learn to move a character story along as well as they did in that play?

Reading as an author means reading not simply for entertainment or learning but to grow in your craft.  And as you get better at it, so will your writing.  Its true that you'll absorb good writing from good books, but if you read like a writer, you'll absorb that much more.