Take a Read on the Wild Side - Wannabe Authors Need to Read
I’m sure you’ve all heard the longstanding advice that if you want to be a writer, you need to read. Well, if you want to be an author you need to read some more, then read again, and again. I grew up watching my mother read a variety of books. I wasn’t a bookworm by any means, in fact, as a child I found reading more of a chore than a pleasure. I know, that’s cray-cray. I guess I didn’t have the patience to start a book and finish it. Board games, playing outside with my friends, and riding my bike, were more appealing activities. When I hit puberty, I delved into poetry and that was my jam for many years. I rhymed words to tell stories about adolescent angst and express the heartbreak of lost puppy love. Aw, how earth-shattering teen love can be.
Though reading wasn’t at the top of my list, and I had no clue reading was so important to writing, I knew I wanted to write a book one day. In my late teens, my mother handed me two novels. The first, I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can, by Barbara Gordon, a groundbreaking memoir that chronicles the life of a woman who thinks she has it all but is addicted to prescription drugs. This book was way ahead of its time, as the danger of prescription medications was virtually unknown and not something that was talked about. The book is a fantastic, page-turning read. The second was a debut novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford, A Woman of Substance, that went on to become a NY Times Best Seller. It’s about a woman who dared to dream. She rose from the depths of poverty to attain wealth and international success as a businesswoman. My love for reading exploded after finishing those books, but I still didn’t understand the significance.
I married and had two sons. From the time they were born, I read to them every day and instilled the love of reading. Getting lost in a book with fantastical worlds, engaging characters, enthralling plots, and charming settings is a great escape. Reading opens the mind, changes perspective, and allows one to dream. My older son has quite the collection of books, including many of the classics, award-winning, and best-selling novels. To say he is well-read is a drastic understatement. It seemed like new books arrived from Amazon on the daily. He’s thirty now, still an avid reader, and intelligent beyond. I think I set a good foundation.
When I decided to get serious about writing a book, my son made a poignant statement. “If you want to become an author, you need to read a variety of genres so you can learn different writing styles and understand how authors tell a story.” Wow! I done good!
Reading a variety of genres opens the mind to possibilities. One discovers how authors wrangle storylines depending on the genre. For example, the formula for writing a fantasy novel is very different from the formula for writing a romance novel. Different authors within the same genre offer differing angles and viewpoints that weave through their story. The more you read the more you’ll spot how authors handle scenes in their genre and how they resolve plot twists. How authors succeed at intertwining genres is another fascinating thing wannabe authors can learn. Reading in the genre you choose to write in is a valuable tool.
Reading the work of others sparks creativity. If writer’s block ever rears its ugly head, turn to a book. Note how the author lures you in. How does she build her characters? What interesting words does he use to describe setting? When are plot twists introduced and how does the author execute them? Why did she kill her darlings? What secrets does the author hold back and how does he pull that off? Zone in on how chapters are begun and how authors end them. Pick up tips and inspiration. Learn from other authors.
Reading causes an avalanche of new vocabulary. That in turn causes greater language skills and better communication. Fresh and interesting words will find their way into your writing, effortlessly, the more you read. It’s not about incorporating big, fancy-pants words into your writing, although as I preach, if the word fits, use it whether it’s simple or has pizzazz, it’s about learning different ways of using those newly acquired words, and expanding writing prowess.
Reading heightens awareness. As you read more, you’ll discover the mechanics of writing. Identifying the good, the bad, the ugly, and the absolute great will become second nature. As you read, you’ll begin to edit overlong sentences in your mind. Word choices and dialogue will jump off the page as either weird, excellent, just right, or overdone. Recognize what authors put in their stories and more importantly what they leave out.