Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Read to Gain Writing Muscle

I'm a huge believer that writers must read. All the time. In all genres, but particularly the ones they write. Read ABA. Read CBA. Read bestsellers. Read what works. Read what doesn't. Why do I so firmly believe you have to read? Because it's as you read that you will subconsciously learn the ways to write the novel you want to read -- and that hundreds, thousands, and more of readers just like you will enjoy -- and expect.

Now, I can hear you. Many of you are arguing that you don't have time to read, because you're writing. Here are a couple strategies I use to always be reading:
  • I always carry a paper book with me. I have one in the car right now that I can't wait to start, but it's there waiting for that moment I'm waiting on a child at their activity. As soon as that happens, I can snap that baby up and read for a few minutes. It doesn't take too many pockets of time like that to finish a book.
  • If somehow my trusty paperback fails me, I have a Kindle app on my phone and iPad, and I always have one or both of those with me. While e-reading is not my first choice, it works in a pinch. And it's a great way for me to get to books I might otherwise forget about.
  • I taught myself to read on the treadmill while training for mini-marathons. Now you don't need to run a crazy race like that to make use of your exercise time to read. Exercise bikes are perfect for reading. Walking on a treadmill and reading is super easy. Jogging and running are skills you can work up to. I recommend books you can throw away or iPads for treadmill reading.
  • I've given myself permission to keep reading. It's one thing I can do that is for me. It sounds silly that I had to give myself permission, but it is one key way that I relax.
So what should you be looking for now that you've recaptured some time to read? There are several things you can look for whether you're reading for pleasure or purposefully reading to dissect.

  • Think about what has you coming back to the book. If your TBR pile is anything like mine, it's down-right daunting. Why are you still reading the book you are? Is it the characters? The setting? The plot? The romance? The dialogue? Take the time ;;;;to thin about what makes the book work for you.
  • On the flipside, if a book doesn't work for you, take the time to figure out why. What didn't resonate with you? What had you struggling to connect with the book and its premise?
  • If it's a genre you want to write in, take the time to pick a couple books apart. Do a literal chapter by chapter summary. You will learn so much about pacing and reader expectations if you take the time to do this. It doesn't have to be detailed -- just enough to let you know what's happening and which story thread it is with. It's a great way to pick up nuances about genre expectations that you'll breeze right over when you're reading solely for pleasure.
Have you ever read with the intent of learning to be a better writer? What helped you do that? 


An award-winning author of twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.


Emily Conrad said...

These are great strategies for being a better reader! Thanks for the reminder to slow down and really figure out what works and doesn't. I love the idea of going chapter by chapter through a book that works in my genre!

Kathy R. said...

Cara, Thanks for the great post and your suggestions, especially about reading on the treadmill. Love the idea of giving myself 'permission' to read (something I love)!

Marilynn Byerly said...

Read the most recent works in your genre, particularly books by newer writers. Narrative styles are changing rapidly these days. Many established writers are excellent writers, but their narrative style is either a bit old-fashioned or full of major problems. Nora Roberts, for example, head hops which is a massive no-no for someone who isn't as skilled or as popular a writer as she is.

Reading critique partners' work is also a good reading exercise because it makes it easier to see your own mistakes by learning to spot problems in others.

Cara Putman said...

Emily, Going chapter by chapter can really help you slow down and see patterns...especially if you read several books in a genre.

Kathy, isn't it sad that we need permission to read and do something just for us?

Marilynn, great point to read some of the newer authors. Though it does depend on the genre, because some of the perennial bestsellers are constantly pushing themselves with each book. And reading critique partners is a great strategy for becoming an editor. Totally agree!

Anonymous said...

Definitely needed this post--I have my own daunting TBR pile. ;) All wonderful books, in my favorite genre(s) and all ones I can glean from for my own works in progress. Thanks for the post, Cara!

Cara Putman said...

So glad it was helpful, Meghan! Good luck on your WIP!