Reading Practice

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

– Stephen King
Book with flowers and magic
Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

I just finished two amazing books whilst halfway through a third. I wasn’t enjoying the first, so I paused it, let it stew, and realised I just didn’t want to go back.

What was it about this book that didn’t make me want to continue?

What was it about the next two books that made them so very hard to put down?

Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, said that reading is one of the most important things a writer can do. That, and write. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) has been a struggle for me recently, so I returned to my first love, reading, to inspire me. Reading is so important because that is how you learn the tools for writing. How you discover what works and what doesn’t.

Plus it’s fun.

When reading a book is no longer fun but a slog, that’s when you realise something is very, very wrong. When this happens, I often still want to know the ending, but only for completeness’ sake. With a paperback in hand, I skip through pages, skimming and stopping only at ‘important bits’, or just flicking to the end so that the story can be over. This is a lot harder with an ebook, where I can’t tell the best places to pause and easily get lost because I’m hopeless at using the technology to its capabilities. I’m sure digital bookmarks etc. exist… but they are dot points in an unread instruction manual for me.

I have even been known to seek out a story’s outline online (Wheel of Time middle books, anyone?).

Some might say that poor writing can inspire you to ‘do better’. This is true – I’ve abandoned books in the past because I just can’t stand the poor grammar, lack of substance, shallow characters, or overloaded description, thinking how much better I wish they were, or what I could do instead. Nowadays I prefer to finish these books using a constructively critical eye, considering what works and what doesn’t and how I can translate this to my own writing.

However, recently I have been struggling to return to my WIP, not least due to sheer exhaustion. Sometimes you have to put yourself first. So I gave it a break, skipped over the book I was bored with and picked up the third in a series I have loved throughout: the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. I was not disappointed.

Upon finishing Harkness’ The Book of Life, I felt bereft, separated from that magic of being immersed in a world other than your own and quite willing to jump back in again. This is how a good book is supposed to leave you. I want more, and more. The satisfied feeling of having read a great book is addictive, so I decided to continue by reading Aurora Blazing by Jesse Mihalik (second in the Consortium Rebellion series). Both books were well-written in each author’s own style, but I realised that what I loved about both writers was their use of tone; the amount of description, where and how it was used; the characters who I fell in love with and rooted for; the use of secrets that peeled back layer by layer for the reader; and the science in both worlds, even if fictional. I read the books for the joy of reading, but I tried to keep in mind the things that I enjoyed the most from them. I tried to read like a writer.

I would love to re-read them with an even more critical eye, noting the paragraphs, the writing style, the dialogue that worked, and seeing how I could translate that to my own writing. Because that is what Stephen King meant, I think. That you need to read in order to know how to write. If you don’t have time to read, you cannot be a good writer.

There are other reasons, of course. Many, many people before me have discussed them.

But for me, King’s blanket quote stands out.

I plan to get back into the swing of writing soon. (It’s NaNoWriMo after all.) But for now, a reason to read is a place to start.

Do you have a favourite hobby that links to your work? Perhaps it is your work? Maybe you took your hobby and turned it into your vocation. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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