Everyone makes mistakes – even writers – but that’s a good thing because every mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer’s Digest team has seen many errors over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The errors in this series do not focus on grammar, although we provide help in this area as well.
(Grammar for the book.)
Instead, we’re looking at bugs and mishaps of the bigger picture, including the mistake of using too much view, hiding your view, or chasing trends. The writing mistake the book made this week was forgetting to read.
A lot of writing advice is “writing every day”, and it’s true. It’s the best way to get back writing, to fit it into your daily schedule as much as you do anything else because the more you do it, the easier it gets. The writing itself will always ebb and flow, but sitting down to write will look more natural.
But there is an element that I think is just as important as habit, to fit into your life as part of the writing process: reading.
This can be an exciting experience, but I feel like a reader first and a writer second. That’s because I wouldn’t have been drawn to writing in the first place if reading hadn’t continued to affect my life the way it does. I want to make other readers feel how I feel when I read certain books, but how do I do that if I don’t make time for reading in my daily life in the same way I try to write?
I’ve been to several author autographs, and the question most often asked is what they’re currently reading. More than once I’ve heard authors lament the lack of time to read because of their writing commitments. True, when you’re on a deadline, it’s hard not to put all your focus on the writing process. But I would argue that making time for reading – especially books similar to what you hope to achieve as a writer – is just as valuable in the process as getting the words on the page.
Here is an example. I try to write creatively every day, and for several months I’ve been working on one particular idea. Things were going racing at first, as it usually happens with new and exciting concepts, but it slowed to a halt after several weeks of good work. What happened? I could see it right in my head, but when I went to write, there was a cutout. I was feeling less creative, the process became less very pattern.
Then it dawned on me that as I was moving forward with writing, I had neglected my love of reading. But the idea of starting something new was overwhelming, so I turned to a book I actually loved, Brooklyn other Written by Jacqueline Woodson, and I started reading it casually on my desk.
The reaction was almost instant. During the first few paragraphs, I felt inspired again. I have always loved the way Jacqueline writes about friendship, how she takes those relationships with the weight they deserve, and reminding myself of my love for this book encouraged me to move past my flaw.
Read to write
Now, I have two rules set up for myself that I consider as part of my writing process:
- Read for an hour every morning
- Keep books close to me that inspire me
By kicking off my vacation days with reading, I’m engaging in something I love, but also think critically. What do I like about what I read? How would I have done it differently? What can I learn and apply in telling my story from this story?
On top of that, keeping the books I love while writing has helped me work through a lot of the slack in writing. The books change depending on what I’m working on, but the effect is always positive. When I wasn’t sure if my dialog was working, I read a few pages of Stephen Rowley’s book junkle, whose dialogue is brilliantly presented. When I find it difficult to prepare, I turn to Lauren Groff’s Fate and anger, whose prose is so poetic, I feel like I’m there. You found the idea.
What books to read
Not sure where to start? What worked for me was looking for other books that people have read who have also read some of my favorite books. Then I’ll also read reviews, from critics and readers, and add them to my TBR pile.
Also, keep an eye on what’s coming soon from sites like Goodreads.com, and browse around Bookshop.org for their curated listings. Oftentimes, authors themselves compile lists of their favorite books, and when I know what inspired the authors who inspired me, I get a better idea of where to go with my stories as well.
It is difficult to separate the isolation of writing from the reading community. We write our stories independently, hoping to touch the lives of many. This may seem like opposing forces at work, as writing and reading are two separate jobs, but we simply cannot have one without the other. Do not marginalize one for the other; By prioritizing both, your writing and reading life will flourish.
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