I’m sure you’ve often heard the argument that writers need to read if they are to write well, because how can they write if they don’t read? I’ve also occasionally heard the opposing argument, though not often, that the writer doesn’t have the time to read as they are too busy writing.
I come down squarely in the camp of ‘writers need to read’, but it wasn’t until very recently that I fully understood how it was helping me, or I should say, I saw recently how it was helping me.
Dan Brown is an author who divides readers. And writers. His books, though massively popular, which is evidenced by sales figures, are sometimes said to be not as well-written as other books in his genre. I have, in the past, read all of Brown’s books. My favourites were Deception Point and Digital Fortress. I read his books before I started writing myself. Until now.
A couple of days ago I started Inferno, his 2013 offering and when I first started it I could see where the lively discussions about his work might emanate from. I wasn’t feeling the love for the book as I remembered feeling for previous books. I was reading it and looking at the sentences in a critical way as a writer. I was looking at the sentence structure, not the entire book! It’s not to say I know how to construct the perfect sentence, but it did get me thinking about how to construct a sentence. But then something changed. I found myself turning the pages faster and faster and realised I’d stopped examining the words and sentences and was simply engaged with the story. Dan Brown might not have hooked me with his sentences, but he is currently reeling me in with his story.
So, my point with this post is this; we don’t just need to read good books as writers to learn from them, but we can learn from any book we choose to pick up. Be it a good book with stunning sentences and story, bad books that have nothing you like in it at all, or a book that has something in it you can learn from in the good and the bad sections. But really, how do you know how you are doing in your own genre if you’re not reading in it? Or how do you know how you’re doing with your writing if you’re not reading at all? What do you have to compare against? To push yourself harder towards? Because we all want to continually improve don’t we? I know I do.
What books have you picked up and realised you have taken something away from? And what was it?