Read, Read, Read
As a follow up to what I wrote last week about getting away from your computer and getting to a bookstore… today I want to simply say this:
Yes, it’s that simple: You gotta read books!
You hear it all the time. As writers, we need to first be readers. I know most of you are readers. But I am shocked at how many writers confess to not reading widely in the genre they’re writing. Or any genre, for that matter. At one conference, I met with a lady who was writing a suspense. I asked who her favorite suspense authors were and she got that deer-in-the-headlights look, and hemmed and hawed. I felt bad for her because it was like she’d finally been found out! I gently suggested she take a break from writing and spend some time sitting on the front porch with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books. What could be wrong with that?
Of course, I wonder why anyone would even want to be a writer if they’re not a reader. I mean, is there a fashion designer who doesn’t like clothes? Would you be a lawyer if you didn’t care about the law?
But more importantly, if you are not well-read, you will not be a good writer. Period.
You should not only be a reader, but also pay attention to the quality of the books you read. You will naturally soak in the styles of writing that you’re reading. You will subconsciously learn about story structure and good dialogue and sentence construction and countless other aspects of writing. If you read nothing but bodice-ripper romances, don’t expect to sit down and write a literary masterpiece.
It’s a good idea to read outside of your natural preferences sometimes, too. Give yourself some variety, open yourself up to different styles, genres, topics. You’ll learn something and maybe even find a new interest. That’s why I like book clubs, since they usually encourage us to read books others have suggested, rather than our own choices.
Don’t mistake this post to mean I want you to write like other writers, or consciously emulate them (although that’s not always a bad idea when you’re a new writer). I just want you to enjoy yourself while learning to write better. And I want you to be an informed consumer of the product you are trying to sell.
And for those of you who are already readers, what have you been reading lately?
[…]Sites of interest we have a link to[…]……
>There is a downside to reading classics when you’re a writer. I call it the “gentle reader” syndrome, the whole narrator thing. The styles worked once upon a time, obviously, or the books wouldn’t be classics, but these days, readers won’t go for it.
So, when I recently went back to the roots of the mystery genre with Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it recently rubbed off on me. I’d reread what I had written and it sounded old-fashioned. I had to stop and grab the first contemporary mystery on my shelf, “Find Me” by Carrol O’Connel, to get that voice out of my head.
>I feel lead to switch genres. I w’ve been writing Bible studies and philosophy (education) but moving to fiction and allegories.
Funny thing, I have not ALLOWED myself to read a novel in years—I felt I had to study all the time– but due to illness I am now catching up.
I just finished 12 Angela Hunt books, The Shack, Karen Kingsbury, Joel Rosenburg,etc. I decided if needed I’ll take a year to just read. I can write when the Lord leads.
>It’s freeing to not only be given permission, but to be told as a writer that I “need” to read. With working full time, writing, etc., it often feels like too much of a luxury to sit and just enjoy a novel. Thanks for the reminder.
I’m currently reading,”The Crossroads Cafe” by Deborah Smith.
Favorite authors include Tamara Alexander, Kristen Heitzman, Angela Hunt, Francine Rivers,and Karen Kingsbury.
Also loved Julie Lessman’s debut novel, “A Passion Most Pure.”
>One of the best writers/thinkers of this generation…
Alicia Britt Chole and her book, “Anonymous.”
Also, I’ve just finished Lisa Bevere’s, “Nurture.” Good writing with lots of pauses for the soul.
>I’ve been reading fiction for a contest, so I can’t really divulge my list right now, but I did want to say this–the quality of Christian fiction has really gone up. I have been blown away by some of the entries. Pick your genre and enjoy!
(And I speak from the experience of being a book reviewer for several magazines the past 9 years. And having been an acquisitions reader for editors and a couple agents. Definitely better.)
>So far, over 500 AP essays…
>I just finished Colleen Coble’s Midnight Sea. I’m also in the process of reading a YA series by Melody Carlson, the Secret Life of Samantha Mcgregor. I’m glad I bought all three books because book one left me hanging and I ran for the second in the series to see what happened. Excellent books.
>I’m so relieved there’s no such thing as reading too much!
I just finished reading WOUNDED by Claudia Mair Burney – really challenges readers to think about the purpose of suffering in our lives and how it relates to intimacy w/ Christ.
I’m reading SHABANU, a Newberry winning YA novel about a muslim girl and her family. I’d tell you the author, but the book is upstairs and I just had knee surgery . . .
Started THE LAST JIHAD by Joel C Rosenberg, a NYT Bestseller,
THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER, Sara Dessen (great YA book!), LUCKY: AND IT GIRL BOOK (comp for my proposal – the book was icky)
BREAKING FREE by Beth Moore, HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY NOVEL, and some novels I’m judging for a national contest.
Oh, and Megan DiMaria’s SEARCHING FOR SPICE is amazing!
And I really do read this many books all at once. I put them in different rooms 🙂
>I just finished Josh Grogan’s Marley and Me. Loved it!
Currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Before Marley, I enjoyed Megan DiMaria’s Searching for Spice (this is her debut novel and it made me laugh out loud and quote lines to my husband – no kidding) and Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea.
I just finished: Mrs. Jefferies Holds The Trump by Emily Brightwell
The Long Patrol by Brian Jaques
I’m currently reading: Lost and Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey by Henry Charlton Beck and
The Bounty Hunter’s Bride by Victoria Bylin… it’s a Steeple Hill Historical.
I can’t imagine not reading.
>Rachelle – Thanks for sharing on “Girlfriend Jen” as we call her in my bible study group. Her study “Modern Girls Guide to Bible Study” was truly life changing to us. I love her tongue-in-cheek writing style and see myself wtih that style “one day.” That is just neat. Small world.
>Timothy, you make an interesting point about storytelling. However, the recording of it is a different matter, I think. There seems to be a movement of late toward hiring professional editors, as if having a story but not learning how to write it is sufficient.
I guess it fits with our society that seems to compartmentalize just about everything, but I tend to think stories are best when they are well told and told well.
Just like we first learned to speak by imitation, we also learn to write by imitation. So who we read is critical, I think.
Ironically, I, a fantasy writer, stayed away from fantasy for years because I didn’t want to be derivative. At long last, I returned to the genre, both Christian and general market fantasy.
Currently I am reading several fantasies that must remain nameless because this is part of a contest thingy.
In addition, I’ve started Athol Dickson’s Winter Haven and can hardly wait to get back to it. If the rest of the book is like the opening … it’s going to be a treat.
I’ve also started a novel by Monica Wood, author of Description, one of the best writing books I know. I’m hoping to tear that one apart, especially to see how she writes and balances narrative and scene.
Then for an upcoming blog tour, I’m reading Chuck Black’s new release.
>I went ahead and read Uncle Tom’s Cabin recently. It was wonderful!! But there were some parts in which I completely could NOT understand the dialect of the characters. That was tough to wade through.
I think some classics are good, but you have to consider that some author’s of today will be the classics of tomorrow.
So I’m not sure it’s worth being appalled over. 🙂
>I recently had to give myself permission to read during my work time. I’ve got a whole stack of books I’m reading for research, but I never seem to get through them. I read books for fun in the evening. So I set aside one day a week to read for work, although that hasn’t been consistent, with other crises going on in my life right now. Just trying to cope.
>I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s EAT THIS BOOK, SEARCHING FOR JANE AUSTEN by Emily Auerbach, and BUILDING THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY YOU NEVER HAD by Mary DeMuth (hi, Mary!)…which I highly recommend.
Uh, some of us are a little older than the rest, so we’ve read the classics a long time ago. (love Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. Can’t stomach Faulkner, Steinbeck, Dickens). One thing to consider, Kate, is that there are a number of professionals who admit that some of the great classics would not be published today mostly because of length and the way editing is done.
>I’m reading older stuff right now. Just finished Coaching The Artist Within by Eric Maisel. I’m almost done with Elijah by William H. Stephens. Next will be Totem by David Morrell. I’m slowly working my way through The correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, about three pages a day. Then will be Dune by Frank Herbert. My son gave it to me for Christmas and says I’ve got to read it. It’s finally worked its way to the top of the stack.
Classics are some of my favorites; I doubt anything will ever replace To Kill a Mockingbird in my heart. But there are also so many good new writers coming out and people are so crunched for time anymore, it’s difficult to find the hours in a day to get it all done.
The classics are important to remember, though. Incidentally, Nathan Bransford had a lot of interesting responses from his blog readers a few weeks back when he asked which classics people just didn’t “get.” (They were only allowed to comment on deceased authors.)
I nearly cried when I saw how many people didn’t like “Lord of the Flies.”
>Amen. I’m always reading something. Non-fiction usually.
I recently read a quick younger teen novel, it was sweet. Can’t remember the title, only remember the theme. Not Christian though.
I just started reading Take the Risk by Ben Carson. Also reading The How of Wow by Tony Carlson.
And I’m reading parenting books for teens–random parts for the last article I am writing for a parenting teen series.
Reading these two books too:
Set Free by Jan Coates
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell
Okay, that’s all for now. Glad you reinforce this point. Read.
>I just finished reading CURSE DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth Bunce and am now in the middle of a thriller called HOLD TIGHT by Harlan Coben–really good! Also, not long ago, I finished reading THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy, which is a masterpiece.
>Please, people, PLEASE read classics! I’m appalled at how many writers I hear listing only contemporary books among their reading. Yes, we need to know what’s current out there, and I for one still have some catching up to do in that area, but the greats of the past have so much to teach us, not only about writing, but about life. If you haven’t read Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Steinbeck (just to name a few favorites), for your writing’s sake, put down whatever you’re doing and head to the library! I promise you’ll be a better writer because of it.
>I quite pointedly avoid historicals when I’m writing. I have a horror of adopting someone else’s voice or style so I stay away from them. Most of my reading time is just before I go to sleep and I love a good murder/mystery although I couldn’t write one to save my life. Right now most of my daytime reading material is nonfiction research for my next two books.
>My recent reading list includes Amber Morn by Brandilyn Collins, My Heart Remembers by Kim Vogel Sawyer, Try Dying by James Scott Bell, The Shack by William P. Young, Angel by Alton Gansky, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, First Mates by Cecelia Dowdy, Demon by Tosca Lee, and Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. More than one was a waste of time, (I won’t say which ones.) so I hate to think that my own writing my mimic those. I will say that My Heart Remembers and Dragon Rider were the best out of the whole list.
Because authors must put their stories on paper, it is important to see how other authors do that, but I think it is also important to understand storytelling from a broader perspective. There are things we can learn from all stories. We can learn from those told by speakers. We can learn from stories told by children. We can learn from screenplays. We can learn from people talking about what they did over the weekend. Storytellers are everywhere. For that reason, I don’t think it is such a grievous sin for a writer to not be a reader.
>I’ve just read all of Virginia Smith’s novels. She has a murder mystery, Murder by Mushroom. I did not guess whodunnit, and that’s unusual for me. She played fair with clues, too. Then I read Stuck in the Middle. I would not call myself a chick lit reader, but that book was a pleasure to read. I look forward to her sequel, Age before Beauty. Then I read Just As I Am and Sincerely, Mayla, Ginny’s books about Mayla Strong. Here’s a twist: Just As I Am BEGINS at the point where Mayla becomes a Christian and is immediately baptized, complete with purple hair, multiple piercings, and “pink hooker panties”. The baptism scene is funny and touching at the same time. If you’ve never heard of Smith or her books, get ready for a treat. Ginny made me laugh and cry and want to be a better writer. She was named “Writer of the Year” at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference last March.
I’m also reading A Sister’s Secret by Wanda Brunstetter. Definitely not what I usually read, but I loved the movie Witness and I’ve been to Holmes County, Ohio, home of the world’s largest Amish community.
I do read guy authors, too. I have 1776 by David McCullough on reserve, and I loved W Dale Cramer’s books, Levi’s Will and
Bad Ground. Sutter’s Cross I did not get into as much.
For children’s books, I read pretty widely. I loved Rules by Cynthia Lord. I am re-reading Tom Sawyer as I do every summer. And I have Early Thunder by Jean Fritz on my nightstand.
My friend and fellow Kregel author Susan Marlow has a series I love, Circle C Adventures. Susan and I were both Trixie Belden fans. Susan’s latest title is Andrea Carter and the Family Secret. Her fourth book will be Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers, in which Andi encounters a Chinese slave girl in San Francisco in the 1880’s. If you love horses, adventure, and a headstrong heroine, don’t miss Andi.
I also LOVED Dandi Daley Mackall’s Larger than Life Lara. If you read no other children’s book this summer. read this one. It’s amazing–the narrator is using what her teacher taught about writing to tell the story. It’s a writing book, but it is so much more. I like literary novels, so the allegory in this one made me gasp when I figured out what Dandi was doing. You need to read this book today. I heard Dandi speak in April, and she sounds just like she writes.
Oh, dear, I do love to talk about books.
>Hello! I’m not a writer.
I love to read! Christian Fiction is my favorite genre, but I agree that it is good and fun to read outside my comfort zone. But only occasionally. 🙂
I find your blog very interesting. I’m more interested in the business of critiquing books than writing them.
>Just finished Leif Enger’s new book. Loved the book, cannot remember the title. If anyone can tell me which character the title refers to, I’d love to know!!
Love Jodi Picoult. In small doses, as Kat advises!
Loved “The Year of Living Biblically.” For him to make the book humorous without crossing over into mockery amazed me.
Enjoyed Megan DiMaria’s “Searching for Spice” and Claudia Mair Burney’s “Death, Deceit and Some Smooth Jazz.”
>The most delightful treasure I recently read was a small, gift-style book loaned from my mother-in-law, Nicole Johnson’s The Invisible Woman. Both men and women, wherever they may be in their Christian walk, would appreciate its brief and deeply-insightful message.
I just finished Joel C. Rosenberg’s 5 novel series: The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, and Dead Heat. It was a James Bond/Left Behind/Indiana Jones political/prophetical romance thriller that I suspect more men than women would enjoy. It kept me glued to the edge of my seat and left me exhausted since I’m one of those can’t-put-it-down readers that neglects sleep and housework once I pick up a book (or series).
The cost of buying books used to prevent me from reading. Then I discovered that our county library is well stocked with Christian fiction, and used reference books can be had on Amazon for a fraction of the original cost. (Coupons mailed from Family Christian stores help with new purchases.) Libraries and used book purchases may not seem to help authors hoping for sales. But those authors are nonetheless getting exposure (platform!), and their words are being read.
>Yeesh. Writers need to be told to read?!?
I read a lot in my genre, but I put the occasional classic (the Aeneid, I’m queueing up Don Quixote) and non-fiction book in the mix.
>Ooh. I love talking about what I’ve read recently. I just finished Try Darkness by James Scott Bell (coming in July). I’m in the middle of his latest writing how-to book called Revision and Self-Editing. Both are stellar.
>Dreamhouse Kings Series; Books One and Two by Robert Liparulo (These are YA, but I’d read anything by Robert Liparulo)
The Hunted by Mike Dellosso
Perfect by Harry Kraus, MD
By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer
Black Sea Affair by Don Brown
Deeper Water by Robert Whitlow
Nicky and Zora by Claudie Mair Burney
and so many more . . .
>Right now, I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings … and I’m watching the corresponding movies as I finish each book.
I agree with what Rachelle said about reading outside your genre. I’m a children’s author and am working on middle grade/YA fantasy, but I discovered I love Tess Gerritsen and Brandilyn Collins – both suspense writers.
Sometimes, you just gotta bust out.
>” If you read nothing but bodice-ripper romances, don’t expect to sit down and write a literary masterpiece.”
I have had this argument with some college friends – both romance readers and writers – repeatedly.
They continue to insist that their genre represents the best writing out there, that “literary masterpieces” are not well-written at all, as they only appeal to critics, etc. It’s so lovely to hear my opinions from someone else!
Currently I’m reading a Walt Disney World 2008 guidebook, the 1-2-3 Magic discipline book for parents of young children, a how-to-write book, Anne Lamott, A Thousand Splendid Suns (again), and Him, Her, Him Again, The End of Him (the last two are the June picks of my two book clubs. Plus Newsweek and Parents magazines and various blogs. I’m a reader!
>I work full time, have three elementary-age kids, sing with a local community chorus, and teach children’s and ladies’ Bible classes for my church, so like many of you, finding time to read is a challenge. I can remember after college reading a novel a day. Now, I’m lucky to finish two or three a month.
My favorite way to snag some extra reading time is when I’m on the treadmill. I get up early to exercise each day, and I have 30 minutes or so to read while I walk. It makes the time pass faster. Although, I have to admit that I my schedule gets thrown off occasionally if I get so involved in the story that I walk an extra half mile before I realize what I’ve done. LOL
I’m a die hard historical romance reader. My favorite CBA authors are Tamara Alexander and Cathy Marie Hake. My favorite ABA authors are Julia Quinn, Jodi Thomas, and Anne Gracie.
>I feel like chatty kelly: when do I have time for that?! I did come to that realization lately though, and am doing something about it. Don’t laugh at my list!
All I’ve read lately is “how-to” writing books and Bible studies, so I wanted to read something just for fun. Right now I’m reading “Knitting Rules,” which makes me laugh out loud, and “Anne of Green Gables.” I have no idea why, but I haven’t been able to get that book out of my head. I just had to read it again!
Maybe I’m getting too serious so my subconscious is trying to help me find my “inner child?”
>I just read my first Lee Child book the other day. I really liked it. But to be a fiction writer without being a reader? I just can’t imagine that.
>Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Nurture (Lisa Bevere)
Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg)
>Chatty Kelly–I’m so glad you like Jen Hatmaker! I acquired her for NavPress. 🙂 One of the neatest people I know!
>My new personal favorite: Jodi Picoult. Right now I’m reading “Picture Perfect.” I recently finished “Perfect Match” by her as well. Picoult’s books are like heavy narcotics. They’re so intense they need to ingested in small doses, but if you go for too long without one you start going through withdrawal. That’s how I want to write.
Lately, I’ve also read “Julia’s Chocolates” by Cathy Lamb. She has a very unique voice.
“Between the Tides” by Patricia Callahan Henry. I liked her voice and style, but the story didn’t really grab me.
“My Name is Russell Fink” by Michael Snyder. Laugh out loud funny.
>I love Robert B Parker and Stuart Woods for my mystery/suspense reading. I enjoyed the Left Behind series, and I read bible studies galore. (maybe I should write one of those, I’ve read a million). Some favorites there are Jen Hatmaker and Max Lucado. But I don’t usually get caught up in an author. I like to go to the book store, read the titles, the jackets, “feel” the books and just read what looks good.
But as a mom of 2 little ones, it’s hard to raise kids, keep house, write a blog, read others blogs, do bible study, do volunteer activites and hey, in my spare time I’ll read a book! Yeah! I think my “season” of being a true writer may be 10 years away.
>Just finished and thoroughly enjoyed an ARC of Jim Bell’s TRY DARKNESS. Then moved on to Lee Childs’ NOTHING TO LOSE and Harlan Coben’s HOLD TIGHT, both of which epitomize the “conflict on every page” style Donald Maass preaches. Before that, I enjoyed reading Brandt Dodson’s latest. And when I need what I call “comfort reading” I opt to re-read something by Robert B. Parker.
(And don’t you wish Blogger would let you edit a comment when you leave out a word, instead of having to delete it and re-post?)
>Just finished Memory of Fire by Holly Lisle and started The Restorer’s Son by Sharon Hinck.
>Debuts. Lots and lots of debuts. I recommend it for any aspiring writer. It shows you how others have succeeded.
>Just discovered L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack. Best YA I’ve read in a long time. Loved it.
Also just read Ghost Map (it’s about cholera in London) by Steven Johnson – well-told classic epidemiology, a bit too much padding, but also loads of great facts and some insights.
Allen Greenspan’s Age of Turbulence – economics and biography and economic biography.
Those are from Audible.
Also listening to: Escapepod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Drabblecast, The DragonPage, various free books from Podiobooks.com.
I’m in a busy graduate program, but even if you don’t have time to read, you always have time to listen. Everyone drives or exercises or goes to the grocery store. MP3 audio books and podcasts are awesome.
>Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Blue Bloods, Old Magic (those to help me adjust my writing from mg to ya). Now David Sedaris, “When You are Engulfed in Flames”.
The Host is waiting . . .
>Just finished Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Before that, I read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The latter in particular had a huge impact on me, but I’m not sure what to make of it…nor what to learn from it. It’s still sort of fermenting in my head, so to speak.