Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Read to Write? The Best Homework!


One piece of advice to writers I read over and over is that to write, you must read. Make that read, read, READ! At the conference someone even quoted "For every book you write, read a thousand; for every word you write, read a thousand. Read everything: Read your genre. Read every genre. Read good books. Read bad books. But READ."

To use a cliche, I'm an avid reader. So I loved that advice! I've often quipped to my husband, who sees me lounging around the house with a book, "I'm a writer; this is really research. It looks like I'm just having fun, but I'm actually doing homework."

But it's true: the best homework for a writer is to read. Not just read through a book quickly: Savor whole lines. Savor whole paragraphs. When I read, I find myself noticing how the author plunged me into a scene; how he or she made me feel I knew that character; how hidden clues were laced hidden throughout, so that the resolution felt surprising yet expected, and deeply satisfying. I read for the hidden wisdom inherent in some stories. And always, yes, it's just the way it looks: I am having fun.

Some writing friends and I who critiqued each other's novels through multiple re-writes finally got to the point we knew each other's work too well to critique further. So we decided to read novels in our genres (at this point, historical fiction and fantasy) -- preferably award winners -- and analyze what is working instead of what isn't: What do good writers do right? That's what we want to know. It's a wonderful experience to study these books that way -- quite different from the usual book club. Experts in our chosen art have become our writing teachers. And, of course, it's a great excuse to read yet another book!

We all know we can count on the others to read one of our manuscripts if we request it. But for now, this is how we use our critique sessions. How about you? What are some of the ways you get writing tips and pointers besides the usual critique group?

1 comment:

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Elizabeth..I love the idea of doing homework (reading). This is one homework that doesn't bore me at all.
I get writing tips from reading books on the craft of writing and from the blogs I visit. Great post!