My 4 Reasons for Reading

19 Dec

    Janey ran her finger across the backs of the shelved books as she walked, feeling the cool leathers, the rough cloths, and the worn paper of her collection as she glanced over paper and hardback titles. She really needed to update her stash, but hadn’t had the money of late.  She finally landed on a new title she had yet to read and had almost forgotten she’d purchased a month ago.  It was one she had been looking forward to getting around to, so it was a gem to fall across it again.  She slipped it from the line of familiar friends with an excited grin.

      The library door burst open and Lilith came bounding in, her bangle bracelets disturbing the hush with each step as she approached.

      “Guess what, Janey,” Lilith sang, “I’ve begun working on a new story.  It’s another werewolf tale, yes, but mine is going to be totally different from the rest.  Just wait until you hear about it.  It’s genius! “

      “Oh?”  Janey said, mentally preparing herself for the buzz-kill she’d be applying soon.  Lilith straightened her shoulders, stretching proudly to her full height and nodded.

“Oh, yeah.  I’m going to branch the werewolf story into whole new territory.  Imagine this, okay?” she leaned in close to her conspirator, “In my story, there’s this alpha werewolf who needs to find his destined mate.  He’s been with every fine thing in his pack and some from others, but no luck, you know?  Then, one day, a stranger and his sister blows into town needing to find a new pack to join.  And guess what?”  Janey shrugged.

      “The guy is his mate?”  Lilith deflated.

      “How did you guess that?”  Janey studied over her collection of books once more, this time along the bottom shelf, and pulled up a fresh paperback.  She handed the book to her friend, cover-first so Lilith could see the two hunky male models.

      “Enjoy!”

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and articles brimming with tips on writing, but one tip that sort of stumped was one about reading.  I had to stop and think about that for a while.  I love reading as much as the next big reader, but reading as a means to get better at writing just sounded addled to me.

Yet that line of thinking was only another sign of how novice I was. Many beginning writers, have the delusional idea that they can make it in the published world without studying the works of those before them, which is pretty addled thinking itself. Greats such as Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, and Picasso didn’t simply pick up a paintbrush or chisel one day, but many expect to open Word and become viral overnight. I’ll admit, I was actually part of another class that thought you could only learn to write through writing courses, and if you took enough or researched enough you wouldn’t ever need to pick up a book for anything other than entertainment. An idea that was little better. Taking courses is swell, but that’s not the end of it either. Writing has to be taken as seriously as anything else pursued in life, and that life-long education begins with reading.

Here are a few advantages to reading that I specifically list from my own experience:

1. A writer needs to read to know what’s stocking the market shelves in their genre, as well as what potential readers are expecting.  Here’s a prime example:

I love werewolves.  My love began, naturally, with the movies.  I can’t say that I think they’re always written well, but that’s where I fell in love with them.  Yet, it was a while before I’d brought my love for the beast into my consecrated reading grounds. Then I’d read Jim Butcher’s FOOL MOON and was hooked. However, digging further, I was soon appalled by the overwhelming number of romances to also be found. Good romances, but not what I’d expected. And I didn’t like the idea of destined mates either. I’m going to be honest, that seemed very out-of-character for werewolves.  Yet, this theme was so common that it had its own den in the romance section; I just hadn’t seen it (the tragedy of not having a bookstore). So, if I wanted to write in that category, that’s what my readership was going to expect in their weremance and I’d disappoint many potential returners if I didn’t supply the goods. This was a good lesson to learn, too, for the potential day I’d be on the verge of a genius idea already polluting book aisles everywhere. Reading can prevent that sort of novice mistake, too.

2. Another reason to read is for ideas on improving your own writing—plot-wise.  Deciding that you’ll write a book like SHUTTER ISLAND’s movie is fine, but it would be so much easier if you understood how such a story was typically put together in words.  A good example of this is in the romance genre.  The majority of romances have a particular scene where Character 1 finally discovers those pesky feelings they’ve been having for Character 2 and then they have to chase down Character 2 or they’ll lose them forever. This is as common to romance as the destined mate is to weremance. Avid readers of romance will be looking for that scene somewhere in some form or fashion, but if you don’t read a lot of romances you won’t know. However, you will wonder why so many of your book reviewers are disappointed.

Knowing how a particular genre is constructed is also a good way to know how and where you can safely break the mold without scaring readers away. It’s okay to branch out, but you’ll need to know WHERE you’re branching if you want your writing to grow. Like a tree, if you simply start pruning anywhere, people are going to be able to look at it and know. Your plot will be a messy case of the uglies, and that’s not going to win you a Best Lawn award.

3. Reading also helps with word power and sentence structure, whether you realize it’s helping you or not. I don’t consider myself as having a large lexicon, in fact I strive everyday for a stronger one, but I’m getting better. And reading wherever I go has done that for me. Whether the work is in fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t just leave a story with you. It leaves the author’s writing style and fresh words reinforced into your repertoire. How the author tells their story is just as important and unique to their book as the recycled plot and characters they write anew. Not to say that the grammar has to be scholarly or impeccable, but if Stephen King published his books like this without commas or puntuation with misspelings and little to no description then the world would be a place. Good writing is picked up wherever you find it, all you have to do is look.

Oh, and be forewarned, bad writing technique is just as easy to pick up as good writing technique, but it’s much harder to shake off. If you pick up a book and you decide that chapter one isn’t up to what your writing standards are for good or better writing, don’t finish it. Put the book down and walk away. If you want to write like the best, you need to read the best.

4. Lastly, reading should be done for it’s own sake. After a long day of laying words and mortar, shifting paragraphs here and there, imploding chapters, exchanging cheap words for golden terms, bribing seedy characters with extra page time to off other characters, etc., etc., you need the break. And what better form of productive escapism is there than reading in the writer’s line of work, especially with so many benefits? Anyone can open Word, but to be able to create something that other readers will appreciate and share is a skill hard won through writing AND reading. Plus, getting lost in a world carefully sculpted by one of your favorite authors is only a bonus we’ve been enjoying as readers, hopefully, long before we ever picked up pen or mouse. It’s so much fun to read, writing should not be our excuse to quit. Instead, with writing, the need becomes more imperative.

And so, there’s my list of reasons for why reading is still important. They aren’t all of the benefits, but these are the ones I’ve come to learn in my own first-hand experience. And they are important, down to the last and most forgotten. Now, though, I’ve been writing for a while and I need a break. Besides, I think my Kindle app is lonely.

If you like this post or have any benefits to add yourself, leave a comment!

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bottledworder

easy reading is damn hard writing

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