Tuesday, May 4, 2010

If You Want to be a Good Writer, You Need to Read

How can you ever hope to be a good writer if you don't read? You can't. Reading is a key element in becoming a solid writer. Reading can help to teach you basics such as grammar, spelling, punctuation and more. Reading can also show you what works and what doesn't.

Let's say you want to write romance novels. Then it's obvious you need to read romance novels, and not just one or two, and not just older novels from a hundred years ago. If you want to be a selling, published romance novelists, you need to be familiar with what is out there in today's market. That doesn't mean you should copy or emulate the styles of other writers, but by being aware of what publishers are looking for, you are better able to judge to which publisher you submit your own works. This will also help you to know what the readers want, and that's what's really important to selling your novels. You don't have to go out and buy a hundred or more romance novels to become familiar with the genre and what's available today, but it wouldn't hurt.

The same can be said for non-fiction writing. If you want to write and sell an article to a magazine, then you need to read that magazine on at least a semi-regular basis. For example, if a magazine just ran a story about how beagles make great house pets, the editor probably isn't looking for a similar story, so you don't want to submit your own beagle story to him or her. Unless, of course, it's a magazine with a particular focus on beagles. Though you might not know that if you're not familiar with the magazine.

Also, you should read outside your safety zone. You should read magazines and books you wouldn't normally pick up for your own pleasure. Sound crazy? It's not. It's learning, it's stretching your boundaries. You'd be surprised at how many unique ideas you can gain from reading unfamiliar material. Let's say you're wanting to write a science fiction novel, but you feel like everything's already been done in the genre. Then you're standing in line at the grocery store and you spy a tabloid magazine. Maybe you'd never touch a tabloid. But for the sake of argument, let's say you do this time. Inside the tabloid you find a story about movie stars being hounded by photographers. What's this got to do with science fiction? Well, with technology increasing all the time, what's the future going to be like for famous people? Will they be hounded by future photographers with miniature cameras that can be hidden anywhere? Will there be near-invisible cameras? Will the photographers be able to use small robot airplanes, similar to the U.S. Army's current drone planes, that can take photos from high overhead? I'm thinking something like this could be an interesting futuristic thriller. And you thought of it all because you tried something different.

One other thing reading is good for, especially for beginning writers, is to help you gain familiarity with how the written word differs from the spoken word. Real life conversations have lots of "hmms" and "yeahs" and such. You don't want your characters talking like that in your novels or articles, at least not most of the time (there will always be exceptions). If characters in books talked that way, it would take forever for any conversation to finish and it would be some dull reading.

Good luck and keep at it!

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