by Deborah Nielsen
Earlier this month, I attended C. J. Box’s book reading and signing held at my local library, the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne. His newest book, Off the Grid, was released March 8th. I haven’t read it yet nor have I bought it. But I will read it. Currently I’m #7 on the library’s waiting list. (I’m too cheap to buy a book I’ll only read once even if I can get it autographed.) C. J. always has a Q&A session after he reads a teaser from the book. One of the questions from the packed audience was, “Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?” C. J.’s response was, “Read. Read everything you can. Not just in the genre you’re writing in, but everything.” He elaborated a bit more but he’s not the only writer who has said this.
Following that advice, I should be one heck of a writer because I do read. A lot! At least 30 minutes a day by my convoluted time formula. I’ve read regularly since I was five years old. Books are my security blanket; I take one with me everywhere. I read mysteries, thrillers, adventure (think Indiana Jones or Dirk Pitt), a little romance, memoirs, and a ton of non-fiction (about creativity, brain research, writing, motorcycles, cars, photography, horses). I also read several magazines each month on motorcycles, cars, western lifestyle, the environment and Smithsonian. My interests are many and varied. And then there’s the stuff I read online, like blogs, news articles and my local newspaper (no more inky fingers).
|My Current Reading Stack|
So just exactly how does reading improve one’s writing? Until I took some writing classes, I couldn’t have answered this question because I read to enjoy the story or gain knowledge. It had never occurred to me to pull a book apart critically to see how, in the case of a novel, dialogue moves the story forward or how scene and setting can set a mood or portray a characteristic pertinent to the story. Now that I know the different writing techniques used to tell a good story, I can recognize them and see how their use makes the story more interesting, or not when not used well. I have learned what techniques to use to craft a good personal essay. Peter Egan, a former features writer and columnist for Road & Track and Cycle World magazines, is a master at this and I enjoyed reading his monthly columns (which were really personal essays) for many years. He makes the personal essay look easy.
C. J.’s advice is good. Reading a lot of different things can help you become a better writer but you have to be a more critical reader. Sometimes this is left unsaid.
Have you read any good books lately?