Why writers should read, read, read

I have been writing and rewriting parts of a novel for  years in hopes of improving my writing and story telling.  One story line within my novel has had me stumped.  In newspaper articles, TV shows and radio stories I have sought solutions, but none have seemed spot on.

Last night I was reading a suspense thriller in bed—not the genre I usually read, and not the genre I am writing.  But  my sister suggested it, and I trust her judgment.  The thriller started slowly, so slowly that I almost stopped reading.  But then I read a particular scene, and from that point on I was hooked, turning page after page long past midnight.

I was enjoying the novel, of course, but as a writer I was also aware of how the author was constructing her book.  In particular, the protagonist’s interior dialog fascinated me, how her thoughts sounded so real—or what I assumed was real since I have never been in a situation like that character’s.  I need to try writing like this, I thought.

And then all of a sudden, while I was reading about a secondary character, I had one of those light bulb moments.  In one  incident I saw the germ of how I could develop my own story line.

Chills rippled through me.  I had a plan!

Two aspects of this reading experience are important.  One, in the back of my mind I was thinking about a particular writing problem. I was seeking ideas, so when I read the scene in the thriller, I could readily see a connection to my writing problem.  To make an analogy, the seed fell into fertile ground.

Two, I wasn’t thinking specifically about my novel as I was reading the thriller.  I was focused on the thriller.  But my subconscious, always aware of my novel, made a connection.  To make another analogy, I was like a mother focused on making dinner, but through my peripheral vision and hearing, aware of my child in the background.

So many good writing ideas have come to me while I am reading.  I don’t read to learn how to write, but that’s what happens.  I see the way another writer handles a writing problem and try that technique.  Or subconsciously I make a connection between what I am reading and what I am writing and snatch the germ of an idea.

I find that I do more writing and better writing when I am reading.  I am on vacation now, so in the past two weeks I have read three books—two novels and one memoir.  The ideas keep coming!


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