All writers are readers first. We learn what books are and what they can do for us by reading them. And we come to love books written by others in a way that makes us long to write books ourselves.
But it’s absolutely crucial that once we become writers, we don’t give up on the reader within.
It’s true that being a writer changes your relationship with books. More than once I’ve been reading a book and found myself so critical as a writer (“why did she make that character do that?”) that I couldn’t enjoy or even experience the book as a reader.
That said, reading made you a writer in the first place, and better reading makes for better writing.
What do I mean by reading better?
Read other writers’ works in progress. Nothing sharpens your skills for editing your own writing like editing someone else’s. You see flaws more easily, you develop a sense of what might be done to correct them, and you’re then more likely to recognize the same issues when they crop up in your own work. It’s also a key way to be part of the writing community — you read and critique for them, they read and critique for you. You’re performing a valuable service, and you’re learning along the way. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to a writer’s development.
Read your market. My reading interests are all over the map, from women’s fiction to sci-fi to contemporary literary to straight-up category romance, and I know any genre can be done poorly or well. But since I started writing historical fiction, everything has shifted. Right now about 50 percent of my reading is historical fiction, and most of that in 19th- and 20th-century American settings, since that’s what I write. I owe it to myself, my agent, my editor, and my readers to know what else is out there. Reading widely in my genre hones my sense of what my readers are finding elsewhere and what I might be able to offer them that they haven’t seen before. You can’t do that from a list of titles and back cover copy. Read widely and deeply, cover to cover.
Read for pleasure — really. As I said above, I do find myself slipping into editor/writer mode when dissecting certain books, usually blockbuster hits that I’m dying to measure against the hype. But measuring against the hype is a loser’s game. Instead, I make sure that I’m reading at least one book a month for no reason other than it sounds like something I’ll enjoy. And more often than not, I get lost in it. Which helps me on two fronts: it reminds me of the pure joy of reading, and it inspires me to write a book that can have that same effect on a reader.
Q: What do you read for, and how?
[Image: We Like Books, by Jess Ruby at Flickr]