Reading for writers

I hear it all the time. If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader. It’s logical, but apparently not considered necessary by some aspiring authors. I’m not sure how a person can know how to write or what is worthwhile to be written if they don’t read extensively. But what should we read, and what’s considered extensive?

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I included the above photo in a 2011 post, displaying how-to books from my bookshelves on the topic of writing. Did reading them make me a better writer? A successful writer? I don’t think so. I learned what other people said I needed to know and do. Trying to apply what I learned — trying repeatedly — has been a step in the right direction, but it’s hard work, and I still have a long way to go.

More than craft books about writing, what’s important to read is well written narrative by successful authors … in any genre, but especially in the one we are trying to write. We need to be able to recognize good writing before we can hope to produce it.

Reading isn’t an option for writers, it’s a requirement; and it isn’t an either/or thing. If you read at the expense of actually writing, you’ll defeat yourself before you start. You don’t have time to do both, you say. Make time. Yes, I know it’s hard, but nobody promised being a writer would be easy.

An article on Hugh C. Howey’s blog earlier this week talked about the dream of becoming a professional writer. In “So You Want to be a Writer“, he suggested the goal is attainable — that a lifestyle of “sitting in your underwear, hearing voices, talking to people who are not there, mumbling to yourself, Googling how to dispose of bodies and the firing rate of an uzi submachine gun” can be achieved, provided we’re willing to do certain things.

There are ten points Howey offers as priorities we need to consider if we want to be successful at writing, and perhaps make a living at it. I wish I could reproduce the whole article here — it’s that good — but, of course, I can’t. Here’s an excerpt:

“…here’s the #1 secret to success and a career of working in your underwear: You have to work harder than anyone else. Period.

“Look around. What are other aspiring writers doing? That’s your ground floor. Your minimum. That’s where you begin. Double that. I promise you, this is the easiest path to success. What follows is specifics. But this is the general rule: Work harder than anyone else. If you don’t have this as your benchmark, you are going to have to rely on too much luck. And this blog post isn’t about the luck, it’s about how to minimize your required dosage.

“Let me tell you about my luck. I was lucky in that I started writing when a whole lot of people were working a whole let less. The amount of effort required to make it as a writer today is in some ways greater, even as the tools of access have lowered the barriers to entry. Yes, barriers are down. And yes, the castle courtyard is now more crowded. So you’ve got to do more than your neighbor. [Below], I’ve ranked the priorities I believe you should have and how to approach them. Anyone who follows this list has a great chance of making a living as a writer. I don’t say this as someone who saw it work for me; I say this as someone who has studied the hell out of this industry and profession, who has taken a very large sample of those trying to make it and those who are making it, and finding out what the latter group has in common and what separates them from the former.”

The rest of the article contains the other nine priorities, and I highly recommend you click over — here — to read the rest. I’m going back to read it again myself. I think it should be compulsory reading for all aspiring authors.

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What’s your philosophy about writers and reading? What have you read lately that is helping to make you a better writer?

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4 thoughts on “Reading for writers

  1. Laura Best says:

    I absolutely believe that writing and reading go hand in hand. I’ve a friend who always comments that she doesn’t know how I have time to read so many books. No one has time for everything we’d like to do. But we make time for what’s important. I’m not sure how one could possibly be serious about writing if they didn’t also read.

    I’m heading over to check out Hugh’s article!

    • Carol says:

      I totally agree about being able to make time for what we think is important! Those who don’t have time to read apparently don’t believe the underpinning of their writing is important.

  2. I read this post, feels like a week ago. I’m losing my memory or my mind. But I’m a writer, so you understand. It’s not me, it’s my profession!

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