4 Reasons For Making Time to Read

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? 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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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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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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