Thursday, January 14, 2016

Read More to Write Better

Author of Free to be Fabulous

 by Debbie Hardy

Image courtesy of phasinphoto

I didn’t read a book for 30 years. No – really – I didn’t.

One requirement of high school Advance Placement English was to read an assigned book every week. My dad considered reading a waste of time, so when he saw me with a book, he would tell me to get up and do something useful instead. I’d close my book, clean the bathroom, and vacuum the house. Very useful.

Unfortunately, he said it so many times that I began to believe it. When I had to quit college, I quit reading too. Reading was something you did alone, so it was selfish, and I couldn’t afford to be selfish with a husband and children.

Many years later, my sons were grown, my husband had passed away, and I was alone. I decided to write a book about dealing with Bryan’s cancer, so I attended a writers’ conference. Many of the speakers and teachers there said the same thing: “To be a good writer, you need to read at least an hour a day.”

Wow! I was expected to read. Every day. For an hour. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!

Image courtesy of sattva
Well, I jumped in with both feet. I bought some writing books and threw in a few romances for good measure. Barnes and Noble became my home away from home, and my membership was put to good use.
Most of the time, I had three or four books going at one time. I would leave them on my nightstand, on the couch, in my purse, and in the car for whenever I had a few minutes or maybe a whole hour.

And you know what? Reading really helped my writing.

Whether the book was good or not, about writing or another topic, I learned something from each one. A poorly-written manuscript showed me what not to do and gave me an idea how my readers would feel if I published a book like that. Good writing demonstrated what to do, whether in fiction or non.

Since I write nonfiction, I was afraid that I was wasting my time with romance. But as a widow, I needed the romances, so I kept reading them. And that helped me to write dialog. I don’t use much dialog in my how-to books, but when I do, it’s pretty good.

Once, I was talking with a writer and told her that my “job” requires that I read at least an hour a day. She responded, “Boy, I wish I had a job like that. I’d love to read an hour every day.”

“Aren’t you a writer?” I asked. When she nodded, I replied, “Then that’s part of your job description. Now get to work and read!”

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
If you’re serious about writing, you’ve probably gone to classes or conferences to learn about the writing process. But there’s something you can do all by yourself to improve your writing – read.
Try it. Read for one hour. You’ll like it!


Patricia Stoltey said...

This is great advice, Debbie. I've always been a heavy reader and I feel deprived when I get too busy to read. An hour a day minimum is a fine goal.

Deborah Nielsen said...

Oh, man, I don't know what I'd do without books and magazines to read. My parents read to me when I was very young and encouraged me to read as I got older. I feel naked and sometimes a bit insecure if I leave the house without something to read. I usually have a book and a magazine or two all in play at the same time. It does improve your writing, cures boredom and gives you a "blankie". What could be better?

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