Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Of course, it’s important to read skills development books and blogs, but writers can learn from virtually anything they read, nonfiction and fiction.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to include books in a written in a wide variety of styles and genres . . . even those you aren’t necessarily drawn to.
A quick disclaimer … There may be times you just want to kick back and escape into a book. You won’t be looking to learn anything. And that’s okay. Enjoy!
But for the other times …
Read with a highlighter in hand—unless, of course, you’re reading a book you borrowed from the library or from a friend. Whether you do so with two different coloured highlighters or a pen and paper, make note of what the author did exceptionally well and what you feel doesn’t work.
You may wonder what right you have to critique a bestselling author—or any published author, for that matter, but what constitutes “good writing” changes over time. Plus, it’s subjective. What grabs your attention—be it good or bad—may go unnoticed by another reader and vice versa. Further, what ends up in your What the Author Did Well column may end up on the opposite side of another reader’s ledger.
And the more writing-related books you read, the differently you will approach books in other categories. You will see things you never noticed before. You may even understand more clearly why you do or do not care for a certain author’s style.
Plus, how you see another’s work—or your own—may change from day to day, depending on countless other factors. What you can’t bear to set aside today may hold no attraction for you tomorrow or next week.
Though they may not grab our attention in the traditional sense, it’s important to read a wide range of how to books in the area of writing and writing-related topics.
Many such books include exercises to practice the skills you are reading about. Even if they don’t, you can create your own. At the end of each chapter/section, set the book aside and apply the information you’ve gained to either a work in progress or a new piece. Voila! Instant writing prompt.
Of course there are benefits to reading and rereading nonfiction, but I’ve recently discovered the joy of rereading novels. The second time through, the reader doesn’t have to get to know a long list of characters and a setting he or she may never have visited before. Sigh! My To Be Read pile just got a lot longer.
My nonfiction shelves include skills development books by authors such as James Scott Bell, Jeff Gerke, and Donald Maass, and many others.
In preparation for a writing intensive I will be co-teaching, I am reading Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore. Next, I’ll be diving into You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind.
And my stack of fiction? Well, we won’t even go there.
What’s on the top of your To Be Read pile?
Steph Beth Nickel is the coauthor of Paralympian Deborah L. Willows’ memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances, published by Castle Quay Books. Among other things, Steph is a freelance writer and editor. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org … on her Facebook author page … or on Twitter (Image by Sarah Grace Photography)