Life Coach Magazine

Read to Be Published

By Writerinterrupted @writerinterrupt

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To pick up on the theme that Super G laid down yesterday, I wanted to talk about our reading strategy. Yes, I said strategy. If you’re the typical writer…interrupted, you personally know at least a dozen published authors. You also have a spouse and friends who say, “Oh you have to read this…”

Now, I must admit, my wife is often right. She seems to have a knack for selecting books that I need to read. Cold Sassy Tree never would have entered my radar had it not been for her. Let’s see, I’m a suspense and mystery fan, so a book about a fifteen year old boy in 1906 Georgia who’s story of his grandfather’s marriage to a younger woman fills an entire novel…let’s just say it took some threats to get me to read it. And I’m glad I did. I learned more about dialogue, dialect, and tension in what should be a tension-free existence than I ever would have reading within my genre (mystery writers tend to be very safe when it comes to dialect).

Read Up!

My writing friends, however, all tend to write…well, just like me. The voices and styles vary some, but most of them don’t force me to look at my writing differently. And that should be the goal of the writer. We need to read novels that break the rules. That challenge us.

Let’s use an analogy.

A young man who wants to be the best baseball player he can be will not spend hours a day watching his teammates. Nor will he watch the guys playing AAA ball. He won’t even watch every pro on his favorite team. No, he’s going to go for the greats. He’ll watch films of Roger Clemens pitching, or Hank Aaron batting. Will he still enjoy just watching a ball game from time to time? Of course. But he knows that to be a great ball player, he’ll have to sacrifice some of that time studying the greats.

The writer should do the same. I love my writer buds and am proud when they publish. They are ahead of me in skill, no doubt, but they are not leaps and bounds ahead of me (if I may be a bit confident here…some of my friends might say cocky). They’ve mastered some techniques that I have not. But I am aware of the techniques. I just need to practice. By reading those writers, I’m learning very little. Like the baseball player, I may know the mechanics of throwing the inside slider, I just haven’t spent enough time practicing it to put it to use.

Lessons from dead authors

By reading the “superstar” authors, though, we see techniques we’d never dreamed of. Grisham, Parker, Picoult…all can show us levels of our craft that make us want to to reach higher. They don’t have to be veteran authors, either. The Shack was written by a man who never intended on writing a novel. Read it and find out why it’s a best-seller. Be sure to go back to the classics. The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist…they’ve never gone out of fashion. Read them (not all of them…no need to add pressure) and make notes. What did these authors tap into that kept their books on shelves for over a century when most published books don’t last a month.

Writing styles may change. You are not going to write like Dickens or Steinbeck. But the elements of the story remain largely unchanged. If it’s one thing we surely have learned by now, it’s that people want a good story. Good writing is optional. Read to acquire both, of course, but concentrate on the story, especially when reading the classics.

Friends will **gasp!** skip your books, too

Most of us get an hour or so to read every day. That means we read a book a week on average. Listen to audio books in the car and you can double it. You’ll never read every book you want to, so be sure to read the books you need to. Read books that stretch your skills. Read for dialogue, setting, description, humor…whatever you need to work on. And read for entertainment. We don’t have to be all work and no play.

So feel free to ignore the pile there Super G (unless mine is in it). Your writer buds will understand. Because I assure you they’re not going to read every Ron Estrada best-seller that hits the shelves.

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