As a writer, I tend to get wrapped up in the process of writing. Whether I am completing a project or trying to land that next writing job I am always in the act of writing. While it is good to have the habit down, you should always give yourself some downtime. Allow your fingers to relax and the smoke coming off the keyboard to clear. Don’t worry; you will be active in other things. I know how concerned I can get when I am not writing. I am sure you feel that same anxiety if you are not writing as well.
Last week we addressed a couple of things you need to know about being a successful writer. The first was to be writing regularly; setting a daily goal and meeting it. The second was not giving up; no matter what type of rejection you get. This week we continue with a suggestion that some writers often overlook; reading.
Reading: Take a Break
If you have learned one thing from me, it is that I am a big fan of Stephen King. Throughout this Writing Successfully series, I will use quotes from him quite often. Here is one, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcuts.”
I cannot think of a better way of using my spare time than to take a break and read a good book. Most likely if you are a writer, you read quite a bit already, so this is basically a reminder of the importance of soaking in all you can to mold yourself into a better writer. American literacy expert and author, Pam Allyn is quoted, “Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.” You learn from what you read, and the effect is evident in the writing that is produced.
Another author I take joy in reading is Max Lucado. I love how he tells stories within his books to make a point. He uses stories he has heard, or more often he uses life experiences to give his reader insight into Biblical truth. Within my personal blog that I have, I have emulated that style. It helps that I am older now and have acquired those stories that help me to convey the subject I am writing on. I will cover more on that in next week’s entry about where a writer gets ideas and how to implement them into your writing.
Now that you have a writing goal set for yourself, it is now equally important that you have a reading goal set as well. Last year I set out to read one book a month, it was the first year that I set goals and didn’t want to set the bar too high. Well, I ended up reading 29 books. This year I have upped my goal to read 40. So far, I am 4. You may be able to read more or less. The point is to set a goal that you are comfortable with, and sure you can accomplish. For a beginner, one a month is most certainly doable. If you end up reading more, then that’s great.
Reading: Sharpen Your Writing Tools
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” –Stephen King
Yes, another quote from SK. He talks about another reason to read a lot. The first was the simple pleasure of reading and using that pleasure to help you create your style. That is done by taking the styles of those you read and adding your own flare to the mix. This one brings about the importance of reading to sharpen your writing tools.
I read a quote, and even after some research I cannot find who said it, but it goes like this, “I always read books twice. The first time you appreciate the story, the second time you appreciate the writing.” While I do not read all my books twice, this quote has caused me to read a little slower; trying to take in both the story and the style that I am reading. During the current book I am reading, The Horse and His Boy, I am trying this method. I love how C.S. Elliot puts in his asides. In the middle of his story, he pauses and talks to the reader. It’s usually about a point that needs to be made, most of the time referring to a previous event or something that took place in a previous book.
There is more than just appreciating the writing. It’s about noticing the structure and cadence of an author’s writing style. This can be learned through works of fiction as well as non-fiction, like instructional books. I have read a couple of instruction books on writing. One was suggested in Stephen Kings book, On Writing It is called The Elements of Style by William Strunk. That book alone has made a difference in my writing. It is essentially a book of rules about writing. Another is called Spellbinding Sentences by Barbara Baig. Its title is indicative of its content. A great tool I have used for my writing.
If your passion is to write, then you should have an equal passion for reading. It is through reading that we develop our skills for writing. What you choose to read becomes who you are as a writer. If you read little, then you will produce little. Yes, you may still write, but that writing will never evolve. Remember, our subject here is successful writing. To become successful, you must grow. I leave you with a story as illustration: (Thank you to Max Lucado’s writing style)
My son Chris is a weightlifter. He is part of the Powerlifting team at his school. If Chris never went to practice his muscles would eventually be lost to atrophy. If he never added five pounds to his lifting max, then his muscles would not build upon themselves for him to continue to lift more. The same goes for your writing. If you do not add weight to your writing toolbox, then you can never grow as a writer. You add to your toolbox by reading and educating yourself about writing. You can never learn too much, and your toolbox has an endless capacity.
Go out there. Read, learn, and write. Work out those literary muscles. It is a cycle, just like breathing in and breathing out.