Posted by: Trisha Leigh | March 11, 2011

Why I Read…and You Should Too

On Wednesday I blogged about the books I read, and mentioned I’ve come across some authors who “don’t have time” to read.

That being said, I’ve never run into a successful, published author on Twitter or anywhere else who says she/he doesn’t have time to read. As far as I can tell, they read as much or more than I do, and somehow find the time to support their friends books and the books of debut authors while penning their own novels, composing blubs, sponsoring contests, and handling all the other glamorous day-to-day tasks of authors who are also moms, wives, husbands, etc.

So when I run into an aspiring author who “can’t find the time” to read, it makes me pause. I’m pretty sure a strange, confused expression twists up my face, too.

The thing is, I have no idea how a person could have the audacity to think they could write in aparticular genre without reading reading reading everything that has worked (and hasn’t) in recent years. I assume my advice extends to all genres (chime in if it doesn’t), but I’m going to talk a bit about Young Adult, since that’s where I’ve found a home.

The majority of the books I’ve read in the past two years have been YA. I got the idea for In the Autumn a few months after finishing The Hunger Games (recommened to me by someone on Twitter). Before then, I hadn’t read much YA since I was a teen. My friend Denise Swank recently stumbled on an (amazing!) idea for a YA. I shoved a stack of books at her (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Before I Fall, Matched, Beautiful Creatures, etc.). “Here,” I said. “Read these.”

She did, even though she has a teenaged daughter and has raised two teenaged boys and two teenaged stepdaughers. I’m critiquing her first revision now. Of course there are things she can improve, but you know what she got right?

It reads like YA.

 

If I hadn’t read Hunger Games and thirty other Young Adult novels, how could I have understood the genre well enough to write a book that not only relates to its intended audience (which is not adults, though many of us enjoy the stories), but avoids common pitfalls? How would I have learned (remembered?) how self-centered teenagers are, how hard some lessons are to learn, or what it feels like to fall in love all over again?

Answer: I couldn’t have. I would have written a book that lectured (like a previous novel, now trunked), or one that sounded like an adult talking about experiences they had as a teen (got one of those in the trunk, too).*

I’m not a published author. I’m not even an author who has sold a book. Like everyone else, I have room to grow, and honestly, who doesn’t want to improve with each faltering step down their path? What’s the point of doing anything in life if you can’t find a way to dig deeper, push harder, get better?

Reading isn’t the only essential step to improving your writing, don’t get me wrong. Critiquing for others is important. Finding the courage to put your work out there for critique is important. Following agent blogs and learning about the industry you want to be a part of is important. It’s all important, but I submit to you that reading within (and without) your genre should get as big a piece of your time as anything else.

Plus, it’s fun.

Am I way off base? Does reading help you write? Are there times you find you can’t read and maintain your own voice and vision (I get this way during a 1st draft)? Love to hear your answers!

*Fun tidbit: I actually have a trunk where I put my abandoned novels to bed. It’s my grandfather’s WWII footlocker. I love it.

What I’m watching right this minute: Nothing. Blissful silence reigns. Whoops. Except for the dog barking.

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Responses

  1. Awww!!!! I’m in your blog post! I’m glad you still find my idea amazing and that I’m sounding like a YA.

    It would be easy to fall into the trap of “I have teens, I know how they think.” And while it is true, to some extent, I would have written it more like an adult POV if I hadn’t saturated my brain with YA books.

    Still, my kids are very helpful. I’ve asked my boys if my male MC is behaving appropriately (or in some cases, inappropriately enough) for a 17 year old boy. I ask my daughter if I’m handling snarky arguments between teen girls. But I needed the YA books to remind me it’s okay if my MC is self-centered (even when I tell my teens it’s not) and it’s okay that FEELINGS rule my MCs decision making skills (even when I … you get the point.) I need to think more like a teen.

    A few days ago, I was talking to you on the phone and my son and daughter said “Mom, stop! You sound like a teenager.”

    Best compliment. Ever. (for my book)

    • Yes, I believe we were talking on the phone at the time, so that means i get some of the credit 🙂

  2. I read books I love, and I often do try to gear my reading toward books that will teach me things about the way I want to write. Also I think I learned a great deal of any writerly fluency I have from being an avid reader.

    I keep my own voice clear by reading a few pages of my WIP before beginning, or it will start to sound like my most recent read.

    • That’s a good technique, to read some of your pages. I’m always tempted to just dive in.

  3. I think reading is a vital role to your writing career. Stephen King says in his novel On Writing, if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. As writes we support our fellow writers by READING, if you don’t spend the time to return the favor your supporters won’t be your supporters forever.

    I’m with you, my face twists up and I look at them with an upset and disappointed look when someone tells me they don’t have time to read. Especially when the TV is something they LIVE for. It’s one thing if you don’t like to read, but don’t say you don’t have time. Everyone can make time.

    Granted, I’d love MORE time to read but I most certainly utilize the time I am given to split between writing and reading and I am 100% certain it has helped me grow as a writer. It’s also a fabulous tool to get the spark back in your heart to remember why you love to write, because you change lives.

    • Good point about making the time if you want to. We make time for all sorts of things every day (television included). Oh, we’d all love MORE time to read, but those stories in our heads need somewhere to go too. Thanks for the comment!

  4. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I have a hard time both reading and writing. I will go through a spell of one then set it aside to do the other. I like the way you put it: maintaining your own vision. I found that I can’t write after being inspired by other writings, or songs, or movies, because what I write is basically a bland, unoriginal carbon copy. My inspiration must be intrinsic to have a voice uniquely mine.

    • Voice is a hard thing, because it’s so unique to each writer, and each character. I’ve set up a schedule, and one night a week I don’t write, just come home, take the dogs out, make dinner, and curl up with a book. It’s worked out great, and I’ve been reading about one book a week.

  5. The only time I don’t read much is when I’m closing in on the end of one of my own books. That’s when the obsession takes over, and I can barely remember to eat and attend to personal hygiene, much less read.

    I love that you have an actual trunk for your abandoned novels! Seems fitting. 🙂

    • You’re lucky. I’m like that all the way up to the last 30 pages or so, then I avoid writing the ending. I haven’t figured out that particular psychosis just yet. I never thought about watching out for our “tweet voice” or “facebook voice” in our writing, but I bet it could sneak in there. I had a beta reader flag a couple spots in my MS and write “this is Trisha talking” so…oops.

  6. I can’t NOT read. I’m in between books right now and it feels wrong, like I’m walking around without pants or a shirt. Reading as I write actually helps me maintain my own voice; I think we read so many things during the day, like tweets and FB updates and articles, that are written in a completely different style, so it’s important that we stay exposed to the kind of writing we aspire to.

    Besides, it’s so much fun to say, “Hey, I’m taking a reading break now,” and know that it’s still a vital part of your work as a writer. 🙂

  7. You might be surprised how many successful authors don’t read. They bemoan the fact, but they also claim they just don’t have the time.

    It a claim I find baffling. At my busiest, when the day job is eating ten or more hours a day, I’m running around taking care of family and life errands, and fitting in some writing, I still read. It might be ten minutes before sleep, or standing in line at the bank, or whatever, but there is always time if it’s important enough to you.

    You make a great case for why it’s important.

    • “There’s always time if it’s important enough to you.”

      Well said. We make time for the things we want to make time for, end of story. I always wish I had MORE time to read, or to write, or sleep, but we all get the same amount. How we choose to spend them is up to us.


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