…And Build Another Bookcase

I said this in the previous post, but I’d like to expand on it. This post is aimed at people who want to write fiction–not comic strips, not graphic novels, not anime screenplays, but fiction short stories, novellas and novels.

Read.

That’s the gist of my argument. If you don’t read for pleasure, you are probably holding onto the wrong aspiration. If you don’t read a LOT, you will have a hard time succeeding. Read everything you can get your hands on, whether it’s good or bad, in all your spare time. Read in the bathtub, read on the toilet, read while you eat, read when you can’t sleep, read while you’re waiting for the people ahead of you in the grocery store line to finish writing their checks.

But why?

Partly simply because in order to speak a language, the best way to learn it is to immerse yourself. If you read a story, especially a piece of dialogue, you will find that it doesn’t really, not REALLY, sound like people talking in real life. The way the author wrote the description is not at all the same words you’d use in your head, if called upon to look around you. Fiction writing is a language of its own, and within that sea of language, you will want to have your own current of voice. You won’t get it unless you read copiously.

Also because you need to develop some discernment. Throughout the life of a writer, there is never any end to the learning process; a writer who believes they know everything about writing has stopped learning, changing, growing, and getting better. There’s no upper limit to ‘getting better’ as a writer. It’s important to develop a facility for knowing what you like and what you don’t like, and then why you do or don’t like it. Those are steps along the road to knowing how you want to do it yourself.

Also because it keeps you in practice. A writer has a strange connection to the world. Speaking only for myself, I see everything in terms of text. A line of text goes through my head at all times; what you say to me has “she said” after it in my head; I am always describing things that catch my interest in writing in my brain; people around me turn into characters; and most telling of all, I can’t pronounce or remember a new word until I know how to spell it. This is because I’ve had my nose in a book since I was six years old. It allows me to practice writing even when I’m not writing.

It’s very important to read the kind of thing you want to write. In many cases, this goes the other way around, too: what you mostly read for fun is probably what you’ll end up writing. However, it’s also very important to read other kinds of things. By all means, don’t get trapped by genre lines, either in reading or in writing. All fiction, and most nonfiction, has value to your writing career. With the possible exception of Thin Thighs in Thirty Days.

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