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One of the key ingredients of advice to aspiring writers is to read.

 

The neophyte might then ask, what am I to read? Does it mean how-to books? Books written by the advisor? What?

 

My personal feeling is a writer should read the types of books he or she wishes to write. Most would-be writers are already readers. Inspired by the books they read for pleasure or edification, they strive to emulate, feeding both an innate need and a desire to share their thoughts and imaginings with others.

 

What moves a person to become a writer or engage in other creative activities is a matter for the psychologist and not our interest here. What is obvious is not every person who loves to read becomes or wants to become a writer. What is also obvious is the person who wants to write will eventually do so, regardless of advice or lack thereof.

 

I’ve never met a writer who wasn’t a reader. I think most of us would agree it was a love of reading that first stimulated our desire to write. But I’m constantly surprised by the number of writers who fail to profit by their reading. Some read only for entertainment. Others read for instruction. The good writer/reader can and should do both. And there are more than a few ways to profit. Reading properly can improve your writing ability, stimulate your creativity and put more dollars in your pocket.

 

How, then, should a writer read? The answer, of course, is alertly. No writer worth his/her salt should ever read without a notebook at hand.

 

As Dumas put it a long time ago: Writing can not be taught; it can only be learned.  One learns, initially, by reading. Anything you read will influence your writing style, either consciously or subconsciously. That’s why many novelists refrain from reading while working on a book. However, it has been found that reading good writing can provide the impetus for recharging the creative juices when you’re stalled or suffering a block. Even junk can be beneficial, but if you want to do creative writing, then you should read the best writing available. You can improve your style, your language and rhythm by the subconscious influence of good literature.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson advised, “When you read a book or a passage you admire, immediately set yourself to aping it so that you may capture the flavor of it.”

 

Some might frown on this as plagiarism. But that wasn’t what RLS meant. What he suggested was a concept no different than the training methods of the great masters of art and music. Art imitates nature and, it follows, art imitates art as well. Stevenson felt by copying an admired passage one gained insight into what made it work.

 

Charles Nodier, a lesser known writer, suggested, “A writer should read until he is filled to the brim and like a pitcher which is over-filled overflows, and then he should write.”

 

Views: 33

Comment by Sunny Frazier on July 29, 2012 at 9:37pm

Wow, I love that Nodier quote!

I always advise "Don't do anything passively." I love TV and yes, certain reality shows. I watch with a notebook, pen in hand and finger on the pause button of the remote. I write quips, especially from cop shows, and try my own hand at re-creating the phrase or lingo. I write down personality defects. I write down clothing choices for my characters. When I read a sentence that blows my mind, I try to capture it in my own words.

Whatever you do, as a writer, be involved and find ways to work it into your prose.     

Comment by J. R. Lindermuth on July 29, 2012 at 10:11pm

Thanks for commenting, Sunny. I like the suggestion about TV, too. You never know where you're going to find a good personality quirk or quote.

Comment by Marta Chausée on July 29, 2012 at 10:50pm

Thanx for a great post, John.  I was always a good healthy reader until quite recently.  A few years ago, I became addicted to true crime TV shows like "48 Hours" and "20/20".  Although they are good for ideas, they are the great thieves of time.

The other day, on the TV of course, I heard that guinea pigs exposed to hours of TV during dark hours exhibited signs of depression.  CRAP!   Who needs that?  I've been reading mysteries ever since!

Comment by William Doonan on July 29, 2012 at 11:20pm

Enjoyed your post, John.  And yes, as others are saying, it's not just reading that we need to do actively - TV too.  I grew up hearing how TV will rot your mind and make you not want to read.  Well I love TV, and I read all the time.  TV shows are written as well, and I'm not convinced that experiencing someone's prose on screen diminishes it in any way.

Comment by J. R. Lindermuth on July 29, 2012 at 11:57pm

You made me chuckle, Marta. We certainly don't want to be like those guinea pigs. Glad to hear it got you back to reading.

Comment by J. R. Lindermuth on July 29, 2012 at 11:59pm

Thanks, Bill. I have to admit there are a few shows that take me away from reading. And you're right--there is some good writing to be found on the tube.

Comment by Patricia Gligor on July 30, 2012 at 12:21am

If you must, take my money, my car and my clothes but, if you try to take my books, I will kill you! Guess you can tell what reading means to me. :)

Comment by J. R. Lindermuth on July 30, 2012 at 12:30am

Love it, Pat.

Comment by J. R. Lindermuth on July 30, 2012 at 12:30am

Love it, Pat.

Comment by Larry A Cochran on August 4, 2012 at 2:46am

I love this one. I am like Sunny. I read with notebook and pin in hand. I watch videos with notebook and pen. I listen to audio tapes. I go to big meetings. My next phase is to use some of my travel experiences for inspiration. Since I am a nonfiction author moving into fiction, I can use the inspiration. As a kid I had a very active imagination and now I want to use it for a very jaw-dropping novel. Not sure if I am going to go suspense, horror, or romance though. Time will tell.

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