Sunday, July 03, 2005

Must Read What You Write

It’s happened more frequently than you would imagine. I’ve met with hundreds of writers one-on-one at a writer’s conference.  A woman who has written a suspense mystery novel (unpublished). She has slaved over this manuscript and produced 80,000 words. Casually into the conversation I will ask about what types of books she reads. “Reading?” she says, “I have three kids and two of them are in diapers and a husband. Who has time for reading? I often fall asleep with a couple of pages from a novel that I’ve been trying to finish reading for the last month.”

Or I meet a man who has a historical novel with some obscure period of American history. He’s been fascinated with the research and worked to complete his historical.  His day job is as an accountant or in sales or _______. When I ask whether he reads historical fiction? He responds, “I’ve never read historical fiction but I’ve written an excellent manuscript.”

See the disconnect?

This entry about the Writing Life continues a series that I’m doing on characteristics from successful writers.  I’ve interviewed more than 150 best-selling authors and talked one-on-one with many more writers. It’s universal that these writers are reading in the area where they write. If you want to write a self-help book for parents or for couples, then you need to understand the current literature and have read those books. If you want to write children’s books, you need to understand your particular segment of the children’s market (and understand the age divisions of that market).  If you want to write contemporary romance, then you need to be reading contemporary romance and aware of the twists and turns in this particular market. You need to know how your characters will fit into this genre and be distinct yet successful.

If you want to write magazine articles, then you need to be reading the particular magazines where you want your articles to appear. As a former magazine editor and current book editor, I’m always surprised when I meet writers eager to appear in the publication but have never read it or rarely read it.

Yes, reading trends are down. Many other things consume our time and energy such as family, computers, television, DVDs, movies, sports and other types of recreation. These things can be distractions to our writing and reading. Are you making a conscious effort to build such reading time into your schedule? I hope so because the writers who are successful read and read extensively.

Admittedly we can’t be experts in every type of genre of books. The volume of books is simply too great and new titles appear daily. Your task as a writer is to choose your type of writing and make a conscious effort to read in your genre. Then you will not be caught flat footed and empty-handed when the editor asks you about what types of books you read in your selected area. If I’m asking the question, I have a broad-based background in different areas of publishing and will be listening carefully to your specific answer.

4 Comment:

At 11:23 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington Left a note...

Great point, Terry. I'm blessed to have loved reading my whole life. There's nothing like sitting down with a good book and a cup of coffee or tea (Iced for you down in AZ!)

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Robin Bayne Left a note...

This is so true of many aspiring writers. I previously edited a small-press lit-mag, and was constantly amazed at how many submissions I got from writers who would never buy a lit-mag, let alone read poetry.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger HeyJules Left a note...

I'm just shocked by this post. I thought everyone who wanted to be a writer read extensively. I understand time constraints and having a full life, but doesn't the love of writing go hand in hand with the love of reading? And if you aren't reading in the genre that you are writing, how do you know somebody else hasn't already written what you're writing?

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Jules, I guess you haven't met enough new writers or people who want to get published. I find this lack all the time in new writers--especially those who have been rarely published. Ask the questions and you will learn the same trend--but it's not true among the successful writers. Those folks are readers--except in the isolated case of someone like Bodie Thoene who is severely dyslexic and does no pleasure reading. Every other bestselling author that I know is a reader.



Post a Comment

That's the writing life...

Back to the home page...