If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.Stephen King
Most of us have heard this quote before. Counting my memoir revisions, before my book morphed into a novel, I have written upwards of 15 drafts of my story. I set it aside—twice—for six months, so I could come back with new perspectives and fresh eyes.
But the best investment I have made in the past year has been to read an average of 8-9 novels a month. Some I read once, others I have returned to in order to study how the author created such rich, three-dimensional characters, or used similes to spice things up, or wrote dialogue that was succinct and natural, and that moved the story forward.
100 books later, here are some of the things I’ve learned :
- I have more time for reading than I thought I did. I do not watch television—we do not even have cable—so that makes it easier. We get up at 4:30am around here, so, after my walking, I get 5-6 hours of writing in every morning. That leaves me four hours after lunch for reading— and another 2-3 hours after dinner.
- Boring or difficult-to-read novels can show me what I don’t want to do. I have been tempted to put the book down, but I usually slog through it to identify what to avoid in my own writing—sometimes I even rewrite a sentence in my mind—and am always glad I did.
- Stories can be told in many different ways. Straight chronological order or alternating timelines; first person, second person or third person; single voice or multiple viewpoints; etc. I pay particular attention to how the writer made it work.
- The classics have as much to teach me as contemporary fiction. Sure, it was a different time and era for authors. But good writing is good writing.
- Anything is possible. If I create a believable plot and setting, readers will follow me anywhere.
I always leaned heavily on the classic authors—Victor Hugo, Thomas Wolfe, Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the like—and found myself reading the same books over and over. But branching out, even reading new genres (I have bought a lot of historical fiction lately—Hamnet, have you read it?) has opened my eyes to new styles and perspectives.
I have a Kindle, so I buy my books on Amazon. I have 6-8 unread books queued up on my device at any given time. And Bob is never at a loss for what to give me as a present. Why, an Amazon gift card, of course!
Perhaps you do not have the time (or budget) to read 100 books a year, but you can always start with a smaller, more manageable number. Any book you read is bound to have lessons for you.