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To ReAD OR NOT TO READ

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

There have been times over the years when I’ve intentionally refrained from reading anything except manuscripts required for my critique groups. The reasoning behind my book boycott was simple. While I was in the thick of writing, I didn’t want to be swayed by other writers’ voices, styles, and plot ideas.  I feared the story I was creating would somehow morph into someone else’s. This sounds paranoid. But I’d seen this happen in my critique group multiple times. I was determined to protect my story from outside influences.

Then, thanks to a friend’s prodding, I made a New Year’s resolution to read one hundred books this year, and since January, I’ve been on a reading bender. As a result, my belief in the importance of preserving my ideas and writing style has changed. Not only do I contend that reading is one of the best things you can do as a writer, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an essential part of the writing process, and here’s why.

  1. Reading great novels is inspirational. This may sound obvious, but for someone who has steered clear of best-sellers, it wasn’t. If I’m being honest, this could be because there was a little part of me who feared that reading awesome novels would discourage me.  I’ve found that the opposite is true. Reading The Housemaid’s Secret by Freida McFadden and Kate Morton’s Homecoming motivated me to type on my laptop, in the same way that watching LeBron James inspires others to lace up their high-tops. On a side note, reading different kinds of novels inspired me to write outside my genre.
  2. Reading teaches writers what works in a novel and what doesn’t. If a writer does something that’s super effective and keeps me reading, like ending every chapter with a plot point that leads directly into the next chapter, I’m more inclined to do the same. Conversely, if I keep being pulled out of a story because of believability issues, I’ll work to ensure that my characters act logically. Reading is a great teacher.
  3. Reading gives writers ideas. I’m not talking about stealing entire plots, just borrowing snippets of genius. For example, you might read Amanda Brown’s chick-lit novel Legally Blonde about Elle Woods, a USC sorority president who attends Harvard Law School. Spurred on by Brown’s choice to write a character who goes against what is expected, you might make your rookie cop character forty instead of twenty-two (ABC’s The Rookie) or perhaps create a male nail technician character, not a female.
  4. Reading enables writers to understand their competition and gauge the level of their own work. Let’s face it. It’s tough to be objective about our own writing. It’s been my experience that writers are either too hard on themselves or fail to see weaknesses in their own stories. It’s also valuable to know what else is out there from a premise perspective. If you’re writing in a vacuum, you might assume that your story idea is unique when it’s not. For me, reading other psychological mysteries has helped me to see how my recently published book stacks up with other books in its category. Knowing its true standing has motivated me to tweak the book I am currently writing so that it’s more unique and polished and hopefully more memorable.
  5. Reading gives you that all-important list of comparables for your query letter. When I wasn’t reading regularly, I struggled to come up with comparables for my novels. Books about publishing will tell you to consult librarians, read book summaries on Goodreads, or go to Barnes and Noble and peruse stacks in your book’s category. The time frame makes the task even trickier. Agents and publishers normally expect comparables to be current—published in the past two to five years. Often, while in the comparables hunt, I’d find a book that I thought, based on its back cover blurb or a recommendation, was a comparable, only to discover that it was nothing like my novel. Reading regularly allows writers to find comparables without the pressure of time. Also, having read a book from cover to cover and not just skimmed, writers can be confident that it truly is comparable. 
  6. Reading often allows you to answer that inevitable book tour Q&A question—what was the last great book you read? If you read often you won’t have to hesitate when asked this, and your event attendees will likely appreciate your spontaneity.
  7. Reading gives you an opportunity to support other writers, especially if you purchase a book and write a review. Being an author is difficult, and so is getting sales and reviews, especially if you’re self-published. So, give back to your fellow writers and support them and their dreams. I am a firm believer in the old adage that what goes around comes around. Read. Read. Read.  Pencil reading into your daily schedule. Who cares if not everyone, your competition or your critique group friends, read your work? The benefits of reading are invaluable!

Thanks for reading my article. I’d love to hear your thoughts on writers and reading!

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