Reading to Write

I pretty much always knew I wanted to be a writer. I started sending out work to publishers when I was in fourth grade. I got rejected every time. Let me tell you ‘Stone Soup’ had some pretty tough editors back in the day. Somehow those rejection letters made me want to write even more. Call me stubborn. I didn’t get published until college – a three part series on Gustave Whitehead for The Bridgeport News. Along the way I flirted with the idea of joining the Air Force, the government and I at one point I think I dreamt about becoming an archeologist. But writing always pulled me back. And books? Well they were and are ever present.

So if you want to write, or write better consider the following four points:

It sure didn’t seem like homework!

But in a way it was. I’ve always been a voracious, and eclectic reader as are most writers and reporters I know. We read anything and everything. What I didn’t know was that reading was training.

Deconstruction is your new middle name.

Read for fun, read for work. If you are reading to improve it’s a good idea to analyze books within your genre. Why did a writer leave something out, why did a writer put something in? How much back story to the story was there? How did the book open? What was the first sentence? How did it end?

Words matter.

To paraphrase George Orwell, say what you mean, mean what you say. I look for deftly placed verbs, original adjectives and scintillating similes. I like to see how an author uses the language to tell, or rather show, a story. I always read for the pure pleasure of it, but I also read for the writing, for the craft. A good sentence will stop me and I will have to mark it (many of my books would not be fit to be returned to a library) and read it repeatedly. I’m probably more aware of reading for the craft when it’s especially well written.

Try it, you may like it.

Most people I know usually only read one or two genres – mystery and non-fiction, bodice rippers, and cooking histories. That’s great if you don’t want to write, but if you do write or aspire to write you need to break out of the box. Try classic literature, science-fiction, fantasy, non-fiction military history. Only then will you get the breadth and scope needed to write well.

When you read your writing gets better, you start to discover new ideas, new ways of attacking the craft. Your vocabulary improves as does your  technique and overall story flow – be it non-fiction or fiction.


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