4 Reasons For Making Time to Read

GIVEAWAY: Dayna is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Colossians323 won.)

 

    

Guest column by Dayna Lorentz, author of the Dogs of the Drowned
City series (Scholastic) and NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS (Dial, May 2012),
a thriller that follows four narrators in a suburban mall who find out that
the complex has been hit with a biological bomb. Dayna holds an MFA
in Creative Writing and Literature from Bennington College. A former
attorney, Dayna is now a full-time writer and lives with her husband,
daughter, dogs, and cat in Vermont. If you ask, she will show
you the proper way to eat a cupcake. Visit her at daynalorentz.com.
Check out the thrilling book trailer for NO SAFETY here.

 

 

When I first decided to give this whole writing thing a go, I figured that the key to publication was to plop down in front of a keyboard and start banging out pages. I admit: finishing a draft is critical to getting published. But the best thing you can do to make your writing publishable is read.

1. Reading Nourishes Your Writing – I had read lots of novels before flipping open Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, but it was that book which exploded all my notions of what a novel had to be. Over and over, I have experienced such revelations while reading, each one exposing me to new styles or structures, and opening up new possibilities for my writing. But it’s not just modern writers who offer this kind of paradigm-busting read—check out Wuthering Heights for some crazy narrative structure or The Sorrows of Young Werther for a cool twist on the diary-as-novel. I try to read something from every genre to ensure I haven’t missed a tool from another writer’s box. Through pushing myself to read what at first seemed hard or boring or not-my-thing, I have learned more about writing than I did in any workshop.

(Writing a synopsis for your novel? Here are 5 tips.)

2. Reading Builds Confidence – As a beginning writer, I lacked confidence in my work. When I received feedback on my writing, I would start changing things to meet one person’s criticism only to have another reader suggest the opposite, and I had no idea how to evaluate their comments. These people were my teachers, after all—even if I disagreed with them, they knew what was best for my story, right?

After years of confusion and frustration, I realized that I couldn’t keep aiming for the moving target of someone else’s taste. I had to figure out what I liked about my writing, which meant I needed to figure out what I liked about writing in general.

To do this, I needed to read the “good” books—the award winners, the ones my teachers recommended, the “classics,” the best-sellers—and figure out what I liked or didn’t like about them. But I couldn’t simply read a book and judge it “good” or “bad.” I had to pick the book apart and get at what exactly made it good or bad.

First, I went through the big-picture questions: How was the plot structured? Was pacing an issue? Did the author save her characters from making tough, defining choices?

Next, I picked apart any paragraphs or sentences that bugged me. Did the writer use tired metaphors? Was an adverb jammed in as a crutch where a stronger verb would have packed more punch? Did a sentence contain, as did my last, a jarring internal rhyme? If I liked a sentence, I read it out loud or wrote it down to let that good stuff really sink in.

Only by building a clear idea of what I enjoyed and admired in others’ writing did I gain the confidence necessary to honestly evaluate my own work and the feedback I received on it.

3. Reading Enables Revision – The above process not only gives you the confidence to evaluate the quality of your work, it also provides you with the skills to make your work better. Feel your plot is dragging? Consider what “good” writers have done to keep things moving and apply that knowledge to improve your own. By knowing what worked or didn’t in someone else’s writing, I became a better and more ruthless editor of my own work.

4. Reading Helps You Sell – Your work does not exist in a vacuum. The editors and agents you want to buy or represent your work are going to be concerned with where your novel or collection will eventually fit into the universe of existing books. By reading widely and deeply, you will be able to pitch your work with a sense of what its literary ancestors are and how it will fit into the current market.

(What should you do after rejection?)

How much reading is enough? There are not set rules. Read as much as possible from as broad a range of genres and styles as you can get your hands on. My personal goal is to read a book a week, every week.

Ultimately, this whole writing process is about making your work into something you and others enjoy reading. Odds are if you enjoy reading and rereading your work, you will find a like-minded editor or agent who will want to get it out there for other readers to fall in love with.

GIVEAWAY: Dayna is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Colossians323 won.)

 

 

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journey to securing an agent, don’t forget to check
out my personal Instructor of the Month Kit, created by
Writer’s Digest Books. It’s got books & webinars packaged
together at a 73% discount. Available while supplies last.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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40 thoughts on “4 Reasons For Making Time to Read

  1. cardboardwetsuit

    I totally agree. Often times I find myself looking to books I love to help me figure out how to tweak something to make it just right. It never resembles the work from which I took the inspiration, but it is all the better after being filtered through its quality.

  2. patmca65

    Thanks for validating what I thought was my own original new idea–to read bestselling authors. I want to know how I measure up when compared to what’s selling big. Another big help in your blog is, “By reading widely and deeply, you will be able to pitch your work with a sense of what its literary ancestors are and how it will fit into the current market.” You may have supplied me with the missing ingredient in my queries. Thanks again. P

  3. rcredford

    I’ve been struggling my way through some “literature” (The Adventures of Augie March, All the King’s Men, American Pastoral –yes, I’m starting with the A’s) and it is downright painful at times. However, there are definite pluses. For one, it is much better saying you have read something when you turn that last page than it is to be actually slogging your way through it. But the best thing is what you said: I suddenly realize that my definition of “novel” has suddenly blown wide open. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Wow. I didn’t know you could do that!” So, while I’m not enjoying the reading so much while I’m doing it, I am learning an awful lot about writing. And occasionally, I find an unforgettable character, even though I may not have actually liked him too much — like Nathan Zuckerman, who just won’t seem to leave my brain.

  4. dtapley

    I have an ever-lengthening queue of books on my “to read” list. After reading this, I think I will try to shorten it a bit. Tomorrow, if things go well.

  5. draco9946

    This reminds me why I fell in love with the idea that I should write, too: to pass on that kind of pleasure that someone else’s crafted words, phrases, paragraphs gave me. To regard my work as having “a sense of its literary ancestors…” is inspiring, indeed. Off to the bookstore!

  6. Squiggles

    In high school, I had to write a memoir for my creative writing class. I was stuck on the ending, so I asked two of my friends for advice. They gave me completely different suggestions, and in the end I was more stuck than before. I definitely understand trying to please the moving target of everyone’s tastes – it’s impossible. Taking critiques from others can be helpful, but when it comes down to it, you just have to go with what feels right.

  7. LRS

    Love the advice. As an aspiring writer I’m always looking for new ways to improve my writing. This has helped me in so many ways. Thank you very much. I hope to see more posts like this hopefully also from u dayna 🙂

  8. nancybee

    The more you read the more you learn your craft. How many times do you have an “I get it” or “That’s how it’s done moment” when reading a well-written, well-crafted book? Every few pages if you’re paying attention to the craft of writing. The key is also to read widely – as many different genres as possible because you can always learn from another good writer.

    As to some of your other insightful comments, the most important is you must write to satisfy yourself. It’s your novel. Of course I write this as am in the middle of yet another revision of my novel in response to suggestions from a literary agent who wants to read the first few chapters, but would like them written in the style of…

  9. Hoggette

    It’s great to get advice to do something you already love. And now I can read and not feel like I am deserting my writing, because I will be working on writing while I am reading!

  10. Zach

    Helpful stuff. I’m an avid reader, so it’s nice to know others (rightly so, of course) encourage putting down the pen every once in a while and picking up a book.

  11. Di

    This is the second time I’ve heard this advice, so now is the time to follow it. I’m taking a long weekend away from work, so it’s the perfect time to dive into a book and do my best to read like a writer and learn from others.

  12. lynnshoemate

    I love to read, but sometimes feel guilty because it feels like I’m being lazy. I will start thinking of reading as part of my writing requirements. Great article.
    Lynn

  13. Lauralew

    I’m taking an online creative writing class that suggests books to read depending on the lesson that is presented. Today I finished “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” I cried and cried. Yes, I learned a lot about POV from this novel, but also I was changed as a person by reading it. So we must, must make time to read.

  14. mhardg8334

    Thank you for the tips….especially the first one. I know from experience that if you wait for inspiration, you will never write. The more you write, the more inspiration will come. I find that writing is like WD-40 for my brain. The more I do it, that creative part of my brain that always seems to be rusted shut starts to loosen up and ideas, slowly but surely, start to pop up. But Dayna, my question for you is….can you properly eat a cupcake and write at the same time? 🙂

  15. SheriGraz

    Love this article. I have been reading myself to sleep every night since I was ten years old. I remember reading “That Was Then, This Is Now” by S.E. Hinton and writing down my favorite quotes in my spiral notebook. I’ve always appreciated a memorable sentence. A good writer is a great teacher. Thanks for the great advice.

  16. WriteBrain

    I have been having buckets of trouble with my novel and I wish I would’ve found your article sooner. I don’t remember the last time I went to the library or picked up a book at the store, but it occurs to me that when I actually spent time reading, I was really into my own writing. I guess books have been my selfish way of obtaining the opinions of other writers without capitalizing their time on Facebook or 24/7 workshops.

    Thank you for giving me that little push to get my butt to BAM or the library or somewhere other than my desk.

  17. Margo Christie

    Since I started writing, I, too, have found myself critiqueing popular novels and classics. I pick apart sentences for what does or does not work, analyze beginnings for strong hooks, question the believability of authors’ assumptions, etc. An avid reader of books about writing, I sometimes find myself getting “stuck” based on something a so-called expert in the field of publishing has to say about what is or is not acceptable (Need I say some have very rigid standards?) Then I return to one or two of my favorite novels (Toni Morrison’s “Jazz” comes to mind, as do all works by Oscar Hijuelos) and realize that these great writers achieved their greatness precisely by going against the grain! Yes, reading the works of others certainly aids fledgling writers, even if only by healing the bumps and bruises to self-esteem we routinely experience slogging through the seemingly-impossible task of getting noticed and published. I would however, add a caution that an awareness of one’s unique voice is necessary to avoid imitation of other authorial voices.

    Cheers!

    Margo Christie
    http://www.margochristienovelist.com

  18. drchriscottrell

    This is a timely article because I think I have reader’s block. I tell myself that I need read more and even write it on my to-do list, but the so-called “more important” things overwhelm it urging me, egging me, to carry it over to to the next day,week, and even month. I think what I need is to plant my butt in my favorite chair, with a good buck in hand, not getting up until I finish it (no matter how many cups of coffee I have sipped that morning).

  19. SharryMiller

    I never need an excuse to read more, but I appreciate that you gave me some. Great ideas, although hard to carry out in the midst of a book I really am enjoying reading. I guess that’s a reason I should re-read, somthing I never do.

  20. jdietzel-glair

    Thank you for your tips. As a librarian by trade, I have no trouble finding a good book to read. Unfortunately, I find that it doesn’t boost my confidence. Instead, I find myself worrying that I’ll never be as good as what is already out there. Of course, none of this stops me from reading.

    1. Dayna Lorentz

      There have been books which have made me feel that way, too:) I take comfort from the fact that most writers I know suffer from these fears. Don’t let them stop you from writing, either!

  21. RFA Spearhead

    This book sounds great! I am just starting to write and am experiencing the problems addressed in this book. Family and friends give many opinions and I am at a loss as to what path to take.

  22. bookslibations

    Do you ever feel guilty for reading when you should be writing and vice versa? I started a book review site just so I could justify reading as “work.”

    Also, it’s better for your health. Spend 4 hours watching tv and four hours reading. Which one will leave you feeling like a million bucks when you’re done?

  23. Jessica

    Reading and writing, yin and yang! When at an impasse on one, try the other. Thank you for providing a more practical discussion of the topic in your post.

  24. stephsco

    I read a lot, but I don’t always methodically parse out what I like and what works. I think I know but it’s a good idea to write it down and evaluate my own writing against what I like to read.

  25. jmiff328

    I completely agree with the entire article. I read at least two books a week from all different genres. My first love is Horror/ Science Fiction but I have read many romance, thriller, literary fiction, and young adult novels just to get an idea of what each genre requires. I would love to read your new book.

  26. Lina Moder

    This is wonderful advice, and I’ve found it to be so true – when reading a book I love I get even more inspired and it opens so many creative doors that I hadn’t known existed.

    I’ve heard awesome things about Dayna’s book! Congrats and thanks so much:)

    linamoder at gmail dot com

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