Read to Learn
You must have acquired a love for reading at some point in your life, right? As a young girl, I gobbled up books right and left-anything from Goosebumps to Little House on the Prairie. A rather wide range, but that’s good. It was only later, probably in high school, that I learned to love writing as well.
As a fellow writer, I can only assume that you love reading as much as I do. Hopefully. If you read rarely or, *gasp*, not at all, I must say that you NEED to start reading *inserts gif of someone slapping someone, just to get the point across*.
Some of you may be wondering why it’s so important to read as a writer. If that’s a nod or shake of your head being directed at your screen right now, I’ll give you some good reasons, regardless. Because I’m just that nice.
We read to learn
That’s a big point. Almost every day of school growing up you were presented with textbooks, notebooks, reading books, etc. And the more you did it, the easier it came to you; eyes flowing quickly across the pages, absorbing facts, new stories, fantastic imagery. Unless it was a math book. Even story problems bored me to death. Burn them all! Bwhahaha.
*Ahem*. Anyways, we read to learn, whether it’s happening intentionally or subconsciously. Even if you didn’t always necessarily LOVE reading, your vocabulary was expanding, your understanding grew, and your imagination bloomed.
So as a writer, it’s not only important to read, but to study as we read. That despicable word might be sending shivers down your spine, but let me assure you: this type of studying should be enjoyable, and I’ll explain why.
Read to learn about creating
As writers we revel in creation; we live to create lands, people, worlds, galaxies. To study writing is to study the process of creation itself. When you read to study and to learn, ask yourself some questions. Is the author’s character-building adequate? Is their literary world being built around you, creating a setting worth stepping into? On the other hand, are there certain aspects of their writing that you disagree with?
If it’s difficult for you to take a step away from these questions, to view writing in parts rather than a whole piece, then take it even further. With a notebook, write down certain things that jump out as you read. Force yourself to stop when something jumps out at you, or even at the end of every chapter. This forces you to retreat from the world within that book and focus on the bits and pieces that create the whole picture. Take the first chapter for instance: Did the author introduce an interesting character? Was a proper conflict introduced to keep the reader going?
Charlie Sorrel, a fellow blogger, wrote about some great note-taking tips for writers. In his post, “How to set up a foolproof note-taking system for writers and others nerds”, he introduces a set of very helpful symbols. (Take a look at the link for a helpful guide on how to use them). Now, he does use these for note-taking when one is writing down ideas or reminders for their own writing, but I can definitely see them coming in handy when you are picking apart someone else’s writing. For instance, he uses a little “x” to put next to things that need “fixing”. While studying a book or short story, look for those things that the author has done that you would try to avoid in your own writing. Are they using too many cliches? Do they overuse a certain adjective?
You can see how a set of symbols may be useful while studying and learning from other writers. Feel free to create your own set for your handy dandy notebook. Because you should have one. Really. And if you don’t, go buy one! Now!
Read to learn who your audience is
Who are you writing for? As you read other works of literature, keep in mind who would enjoy such a story. Is the story about silly little glittering vampires that teenage girls would drool over? Or, are there some moments of intimacy and strong language that might be for a more mature audience?
We are all drawn to certain types of books. You need to know how to draw your audience, depending on what you’re writing. To start, consider books out there that are similar to what you’re writing. What age group is buying this the most? Are they mostly men or women? Sports fans or die-hard D&D players?
I know that it’s not always that easy to identify a readership. Yes, there are definitely some works out there that have a very wide audience-Harry Potter and Game of Thrones to name a few. But look closer. Even works belonging to extremely popular series might have a particular audience, not including the outliers. Look for clues within the text. Who are the characters in Harry Potter? Young children, right? Yes, they do go through some pretty terrible times, and the stories do progressively get darker. But *spoiler* there is nothing in there as horrible and gruesome as someone having their head smashed in by a giant with his bare hands. If you write something like Game of Thrones, don’t expect the vast majority of Harry Potter fans to have your book on their Christmas wish list. So, as you study other works of literature to learn and grow, keep an audience in mind. You’ll need this knowledge for when it comes down to targeting and selling to said audience.
Read to know your genre, inside and out
Whatever you are working on now, be it a lengthy novel or piece of flash fiction, stop for a moment. Ask yourself: do I know enough about this genre to be writing in it? This is the part where I go back to the beginning and remind you to STUDY! You think you know enough about sci-fi to create the next epic spacey-romance novel?
Write down certain characteristics for the genre in mind. Do authors use certain literary tools more often than compared to other genres? Is foreshadowing a prevalent device? Is there an influx in metaphors and similes?
Novelist Rosemary Clement-Moore, makes a good point about genre writing when she said, “Good writing is good writing. In many ways, it’s the audience and their expectations that define a genre. A reader of literary fiction expects the writing to illuminate the human condition, some aspect of our world and our role in it. A reader of genre fiction likes that, too, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story.”
As she points out, different aspects and subjects of writing are deemed more or less important, depending on what genre you’re writing in.
Read to learn to inspire
Another reason to study your genre is so that you know where your own work can fit in. Just as we study history, we should be studying within our genre so as not to repeat. There are many books out there that are too similar, and many of them fail to sell. And I know you guys, you are not failures. So don’t let it happen to you! Your work, whether it be poetry, short stories or long historical fiction, is important. I want you to do the best that you can, which is why this blog was written for you and your writing. You have a story within you that needs out, and I hope that the points I’ve made here will help you learn and to reach that goal.
Now, this is kind of a long one, but bear with me. Author Suzy Kassem once said, “Artists are the flowers of our world. The best ones are those who can stand out from the crowd by becoming a memorable flower — one that moves us, inspires us, and makes us think hard. A flower with no smell to it is just something to look at. A flower that emits a beautiful fragrance is the one we want in our homes and on our walls. Your mission as an artist, is to become the best-smelling flower in the world, so that when the day finally comes when you are plucked from the ground, the world will cry for the loss of your mind-stimulating fragrance. Be different. Be original. Nobody will remember a specific flower in garden loaded with thousands of the same yellow flower, but they will remember the one that managed to change its color to purple.”
I want to leave you with that image; the image that you can make a difference with your writing. Study to learn, read to grow, write to influence and inspire those who will someday find your work. No matter where you are in your writing journey, I know you can make it. You have the tools, now go and create! Happy writing, my friends.