I was rummaging through my bookshelf and realized that for all of the books standing shoulder to shoulder like paperback soldiers, I haven’t read a majority of them.
That seems counterintuitive for someone who operates a literary blog, aspires to be an established author, and hands out book reviews on occasion. I used to believe that reading fiction books was going to cause me to glean plots and characters from other writers; that their ideas would find their way into my stories and I would then become known as that hack who rips people off.
I now understand that I was entirely mistaken – reading is paramount to aspiring and established writers alike.
There is only one way to learn what is good writing and what is shitty-shitty writing, and that is to tread through thousands of white pages and black ink. It also helps you to discover what kind of author you want to evolve into, what kind of prose, story, and characters you want to bring into the world. Reading is like stylizing your personal catalog, picking and choosing how to feng shui your stories.
I enjoy Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian is intense – but his bleak, minimalistic style is not how I want to frame my settings. I am much more inclined to describe the weather, much like Neil Gaiman – who receives two heapings of shit from critics for doing so.
And that’s the glory of it – you can write whatever the hell you want, as long as you know how to make it interesting. If you can’t interest a reader, then you can’t interest the literary agent, publishing house, and, most likely, not even yourself.
But before you know what you want to write, you have to know what you want to read.
When asked how he writes, John Scalzi responded, “If I get bored reading my own work, I take it out.”
Words to live by.
If you can’t bother with your own stories, what makes you think that someone else will?