It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The question for February is, “How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?” I thought I would share some of my literary thoughts and habits, reading as a writer.
Reading the Classics as Inspiration
When I was a literary arts student at the Minnesota Center for Arts Education (now known as the Perpich Center for Arts Education) we read all the “greats.” This was reading as a writer for inspiration. It was meant to give us a well-rounded view of literature that’s stood the test of time. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t think they could compare with a good mystery or suspense novel.
I remember trying to get through William Faulkner ‘s “As I Lay Dying,” thinking that the title was predicting readership reaction with great accuracy. Reading as a writer, I panned it in our discussion session, saying that it’s a writer’s job to keep the reader interested. No matter how great Faulkner was reputed to be, I wasn’t impressed and had no plans to read it, even if it was assigned reading. There are too many good books in the world.
Thank goodness we eventually read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I loved it so much that I contemplated studying Russian, just to be able to read it in the original language.
Last year, I thought I’d take a whack at Faulkner again. I’d hoped that with growth and maturity, I could see what others saw. I must have been missing something, I was sure of it. In any case, I haven’t found it yet. I tried again with the same reaction. He puts me to sleep.
Moving Beyond Genre Stereotypes
I’ve never thought of myself as a sci-fi fan. I associate sci-fi too much with Star Trek with its corny lines and Gilligan’s Island type plots. I apologize to Star Trek fans everywhere. Yet, I discovered that I’m crazy about dystopian fiction, which I would classify as a cousin of sci-fi. As a young girl, I loved George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm.” Last year, I read Hugh Howey’s omnibus, “Wool.” I felt like I was living in an underground silo during that two weeks. I also enjoy alternative history such as, “The Man in the High Castle,” by Philip K Dick. These types of books are allegorical warnings of what could be if we don’t heed “the better angels of our natures,” as Abraham Lincoln advised. Even when reading as a Writer, my personal taste definitely comes into play when choosing what to read—and write.
Elements of a Good Story
There are certain elements that can cause you to fall in love with a book, even if it isn’t a genre you would typically read. They include: vibrant settings, a well thought out and executed plotline, characters you can relate to, witty dialogue, and a thought provoking premise that takes you by surprise and captivates you long after you’ve set the book down.
This is why the more I read as a writer, the fussier I get about what I read. I recently finished up a book and spent the night trying to find a suitable replacement. I went through 5 books before I landed on one that drew me in.
Reading to Become a Better Writer.
Reading also inspires my writing and pushes me to be a better writer. I long to give people that experience of not wanting to put the story down, wondering what comes next. Sometimes, that results in a level of insecurity about my writing. I see my shortcomings. Thankfully, I have the humility to learn from them.
When you are a writer—a serious writer, you care about the craft. You want to contribute to it rather than pull it down with foolish mistakes in grammar, word choice, and osteoporosis in the basic bones of the story. You don’t want to just slap something together.
Writing, Creates a More Critical Reader
As a writer, your reading radar is sensitive. You learn all you can about the craft. After reading as a writer, you get good at detecting problems in a manuscript because of the countless drafts of your own work that you and trusted people around you read and edit.
So, when reading as a writer, you have a heightened awareness of amateur mistakes in the things you read, and it drives you crazy. Your time is valuable. Reading something great is a pleasure unmatched. Reading “crap” reminds you that you have a manuscript of your own to work on because you don’t want your readers to be disappointed in the book you write.
Part of the Writing Process: Reading as a writer
I also tend to read a lot as part of my writing process. Sometimes it’s non-fiction. For example, one of the characters in a mystery I’m working on is a young woman on the autism spectrum. I know about this because I have a daughter with ASD. But I want a well-rounded character that comes to life on her own, not a copycat of my daughter. So, I read memoirs and biographies of other people with autism, especially, women.
In another book that’s rattling around in my head, I’ll have a single chapter that takes place on the Titanic. This is a problem since it’s a well-known ship and it’s sinking is famous. I read five books (2 of which were first-hand accounts) and watched several documentaries about the Titanic, in order to make sure I had a solid grasp on the setting and what happened.
Because I like writing mysteries, I read mysteries (or maybe it’s the other way around). I enjoy them, but I also analyze them. There are several sub-genres of mysteries and they each have their own style and rules. While you don’t want to paint yourself in a box, readers get upset when these rules are broken.
The Dynamic Duo
Reading and writing go hand in hand. They are both my favorite things to do. Reading is essential to writing. You’ll never be a good writer if you aren’t a good reader.
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com