A few years back, I attended a writing workshop where I met some of the most unusual and memorable people I ever have. It was there that I first heard one of the most preposterous and, I soon found out, common, writing faux pas’ that exists. When the workshop facilitator asked us what we liked to read, the gentleman next to me spoke up and stated he did not read anything. The room turned its head in unison to blink at this guy. “Why… don’t you read?” asked the facilitator.  The man next to me proudly explained that first, he did not have time to read, and second, he avoided reading anything because he was afraid of unconsciously plagiarizing whatever authors he was reading. There was a long stretch of silence before the facilitator ushered the topic into new territory.

     Reading is the first reason I ever had to write at all. I have never met a credible author who wasn’t also an avid reader. I was surprised by a writer who didn’t read, and apparently I was not alone. It made me wonder what kind of writer I would be if I didn’t first have a profound love for reading.

     One of the first books I ever remember loving was Howliday Inn by James Howe. I was intrigued by the humanization of Chester the cat and Harold the dog. Chester and Harold has this very Holmes/Watson kind of relationship which showed me very early on the importance of character contrast. I submerged myself in the Bunnicula series for the next couple of years and from there, I remember reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. This style of writing kindled my intrigue with murder, mystery, suspicion and suspense. It showed me how characters are used to move the story forward. Also, Agatha Christie wasted no words, so from her I learned the importance of getting to the point. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was reading mostly adult fiction. Granted, I was only ten and there were many things I didn’t understand about the things I was reading, but I believe beyond doubt that these books are what shaped me into the kind of writer I am today… warts and all.

   

     In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he talks about reading actively. What this means is that first, you must read, and second, you must be conscious of what you’re looking at. Pay attention to what the author is doing and what emotional response his words are invoking within you, the reader. I began practicing active reading immediately and have since trained myself to read this way almost solely. It has its pros and cons. On one hand, it will absolutely hone your own writing. On the other hand, it makes reading less enjoyable because you are often too focused on the technique to experience the story. Over all, it’s worth it though. In reading actively, I have learned many things that can not be taught otherwise.

     I suppose it’s possible to be a great writer who doesn’t read anyone else’s work, but personally, I can’t imagine it. I think it’s important to learn from the greats. Not just the classic, historically cemented, old-time writers, but the contemporary writers who are experiencing the success you are striving for. Yes, writing is absolutely an art… but it’s also a business, and that business doesn’t have much compassion for writing that relies too heavily on an authors need for self-expression. And there’s a lot of self-expression out there.

      To be great, I believe, you must first learn what great is. From there, you must determine specifically what makes them great and how that greatness was translated onto the page. Then, you must try to find your own greatness. You must know your strengths and weaknesses and find creative ways to capitalize on both. You must be willing to sacrifice snippets of your own brilliance for the overall quality of your story. You must be willing and able to take criticism, insult, and ignorance. You must be willing to place your ego on the chopping block and allow complete strangers to take turns bashing it to bits. But above all… you must continue learning and getting better, and I can think of no other way to do this than by learning everything you can from those who’ve traveled the path before you.

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Comments
  1. Linda Bennett says:

    I believe!

  2. Ariel Marie says:

    I should have guessed that you were a Bunnicula fan 🙂 Now I know to include you on the tag for my ‘Keepers’ novels excerpt. I had meant to ask you if you had gotten the new Anita Blake–I had it read a few hours after it came out. It seemed rather lacklustre and more like she was burnt out (both character and author) and just wanted to cut off some loose ends. Part of that could either be from or is also telling in the sidetrack she took in Flirt, which in my opinion was a better book for content and new developments. This one was further detours off of detours into personal realizations. As an author, I thought, ‘If I am going to reach burnt out at such an open ended place in my storyline, this is the point where I would turn it over to other writers/fan pieces to take write those alternate paths out.’ Which had an immediate effect on ‘Keepers’, because I already saw 3 evolutions for the character cleaving into 3 separate novels, with a shocker at the end. The fallout would leave her at the precipice of the open road with the rest swept away by the wind–and knew that was *exactly* what I was going to do with this series: Top off the tank and turn it over to the fans right there.

    For me it makes sense, because this entire storyline came to me in just one vision, one single night. So I always knew where it was going to end on the page. When things come to me like that, other than additions I make to get more of a literal conveyance of what I was feeling or seeing, I am a real purist with transcribing it and putting it out there. My editor’s favorite admonition is that once we put something out there, it is no longer ours. Here is the tantamount ritual of that for me. Doing my homework, I haven’t found any other story much like it via Google and I haven’t come across the critical twists of any of the segments in my reading. What I *also* haven’t found is any other author that planned to hand off their world prior to ever publishing it. Have you? And do you think this is something that you would ever do?

    I think the lessons of burnout that we can see in the Hamilton/Blake series are valuable to us. Maybe I will have something to contribute to the knowledge bank about preconceived hand-offs: whether they are a selectable model or a warnable hazard, ha. 🙂 Let me know what you think of where Flirt/HitList leaves the Blake storyline, as I doubt you’ve had a chance to read Flirt yet and won’t get to them for some time. After writing comes the Whole Edit, I know, so this is only half a celebration and respite you’ve got coming. That, and I hope the move is advantageous to you, as well, Jared. Best wishes for all xx

  3. Ariel~ I have not read Hitlist yet. In fact, I haven’t even read Flirt. Or Skin Trade for that matter! I am only up to Incubus Dreams in the series. I have heard a lot of people saying similar things about Laurell K. Hamilton’s books. The alleged decline seems to have happened sometime around the writing of Danse Macabre, but I haven’t gotten that far yet, so if the quality does indeed suffer, I am as of yet still blissfully ignorant… but I will let you know. I plan to begin reading her again soon but have been pleasantly sidetracked by the John Wayne Cleaver books by Dan Wells!

  4. Ariel Marie says:

    Incubus Dreams?? Wow, you are a ways behind 🙂 I’ve heard the Cleaver books are a hoot, but that is coming from my kinda thinkers, so what that might mean to someone else is anyone’s guess, Maybe about the time that you catch up with Blake we can start reading your books, eh? I hope so xx

  5. Kim Justesen says:

    One of my mentors once said “If you want to write better, read better.” I’ve held to that philosophy, and I find it to be true. It’s advice I give to anyone who asks me how to be a better writer.

  6. Kim says:

    I’m pretty sure 3 out of 4 books were mine!!!! I loved them too!!! well written!!

  7. Well SOMEONE had to read them, Kim!! lol

  8. Your phrase simply excellent

  9. What rare good luck! What happiness!

  10. nuseiteft says:

    You were visited with simply brilliant idea

  11. Meravigliosa, molto prezioso messaggio

  12. il est Г©trange En effet

  13. immuffisp says:

    What touching words 🙂

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