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Writers, are you reading?

Do you read? There was a time when I never thought I'd have to ask that question of a writer. Times change and with them writers and their habits evolve. Today you're more likely to hear a group of writers rave on about the latest movie they've seen than talk about their latest read. While I understand all the reasons writers give for their near-obsessive chatter about movies, I confess I don't understand this compulsion to trade movies for books. I can't tell you how many times I meet writers who admit they haven't touched a book in months or years but want to write a book. Why?

Yes, I understand screenwriting and movies are great for understanding structure and scene development. They're great to tap today's cultural pulse. But unless you understand the difference between a movie and a book and how that translates into writing, you may be hurting yourself. Each has its own strengths. Each can be helpful in developing your knowledge of writing. But if you're going to write a book, for heaven's sake, do read. A novel or a short story has its own peculiarities, its own domain. As a writer it's good to get to know the landscape. Looking at a map is helpful but it's not enough. You'll miss that wonderful creek or the new road that replaces the old dirt road everyone keeps talking about.

The question of what you read seems to be the follow up question. Do you focus on the top 10 novels in your genre and say the hell with everything else? Or do you choose 2 or 3 top writers in your chosen genre? That's good as far as it goes but what about the other genres? Can you learn anything by reading outside your box? I think so.

William Faulkner didn't write romance but he knew the value of relationships and how they play out with the reader. Why else commit the boy-meets-girl structure to paper writing it over 500 times? Stephen King translates daily life onto the page and makes it real enough for readers to lose themselves in the worlds he constructs. He taps into our fears and plays them out across his literary landscape and the readers take them as their own and follow him. Like many writers of the past, Michael Crichton spun new science discoveries and extrapolated them into the future creating bestseller cautionary tales. Lawrence Block, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lehane don't just thrill us with the latest in serial killer techniques but probe the human psyche for the reasons why men do the evil that they do.

Each genre has stout pillars that support the tales and serve as guideposts for the readers. Mapping their layouts and then reading to see how each writer makes the generic landscape his or her own is one reason why it's important to read. Read Tom Clancy or Jodi Picoult. How did they put their own stamp onto a generic form? Why did so many readers respond? Read as a writer but more importantly read as a reader. And above all, please don't wait for the movie.


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  • http://christinescottage.blogspot.com Christine H

    I have to admit, I read very little these days. For two reasons: 1) our local library has a very poor selection, from which I have already read most of the books that interest me, and the county library is too far for me to go without making a special trip. (and I’m just too poor to buy books unless they are references or something I know I’ll want to keep forever)
    2) I find that reading uses up that part of my imagination which I use to write. If I start a book, I can’t write again until I finish the one I’m reading. So, I only tend to read in the breaks when I’m not writing.
    Oh, and there is also a 3) Who the HECK has time to sit and read a book these days???? Watching movies is one of the few things my hubby and I do together, so yes, we do occasionally make time for a movie. But honestly, I just don’t have time for entertainment. Writing my own book is about all the entertainment this working mom gets!

  • http://christinescottage.blogspot.com Christine H

    I have to admit, I read very little these days. For two reasons: 1) our local library has a very poor selection, from which I have already read most of the books that interest me, and the county library is too far for me to go without making a special trip. (and I’m just too poor to buy books unless they are references or something I know I’ll want to keep forever)
    2) I find that reading uses up that part of my imagination which I use to write. If I start a book, I can’t write again until I finish the one I’m reading. So, I only tend to read in the breaks when I’m not writing.
    Oh, and there is also a 3) Who the HECK has time to sit and read a book these days???? Watching movies is one of the few things my hubby and I do together, so yes, we do occasionally make time for a movie. But honestly, I just don’t have time for entertainment. Writing my own book is about all the entertainment this working mom gets!

  • http://lillieammann.com/blog LillieAmmann

    I can’t imagine being a writer who doesn’t read. I understand time constraints—we all have them—but I have my Kindle by the dining room table to read when I sit down to eat on the occasions my husband isn’t eating with me. I’ve been known to read a few paragraphs or a few pages while waiting for the computer to do something. If I have to wait for an appointment, I’m reading.

  • http://lillieammann.com/blog LillieAmmann

    I can’t imagine being a writer who doesn’t read. I understand time constraints—we all have them—but I have my Kindle by the dining room table to read when I sit down to eat on the occasions my husband isn’t eating with me. I’ve been known to read a few paragraphs or a few pages while waiting for the computer to do something. If I have to wait for an appointment, I’m reading.

  • Christine H

    Yeah, I know I *should* read more. Now’s a good time, since I’m taking a writing break.

  • Christine H

    Yeah, I know I *should* read more. Now’s a good time, since I’m taking a writing break.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/VikkSimmons Vikk Simmons

    Here’s the bottom line with writers and reading. Writers, if they want to be published AND read, require readers. If you are not reading, you are not supporting writers and, in that sense, the very creative act you have chosen. Who is going to read your book if everyone would rather sit around and watch a movie? Now, even the writers aren’t reading. I think it’s a sad thing and a serious problem for all writers who plan to include publishing in their future.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/VikkSimmons Vikk Simmons

    Here’s the bottom line with writers and reading. Writers, if they want to be published AND read, require readers. If you are not reading, you are not supporting writers and, in that sense, the very creative act you have chosen. Who is going to read your book if everyone would rather sit around and watch a movie? Now, even the writers aren’t reading. I think it’s a sad thing and a serious problem for all writers who plan to include publishing in their future.

  • Christine H

    I totally agree, Vikk. I feel very hypocritical not buying books.

  • Christine H

    I totally agree, Vikk. I feel very hypocritical not buying books.

  • cinnie

    I love to read, but I have to admit I also love movies. Anything to avoid living in the real world.
    I’ve actually started reading some of the classics, as well as some of the books that Don Maas uses as examples and that has gotten me re-involved in reading.
    Another reason I don’t read as much as I used to is that I use reading as an escape, so I don’t really enjoy too much gore, depressing endings, or a lot of graphic sex and so many of the new books have one or all of these things.

  • cinnie

    I love to read, but I have to admit I also love movies. Anything to avoid living in the real world.
    I’ve actually started reading some of the classics, as well as some of the books that Don Maas uses as examples and that has gotten me re-involved in reading.
    Another reason I don’t read as much as I used to is that I use reading as an escape, so I don’t really enjoy too much gore, depressing endings, or a lot of graphic sex and so many of the new books have one or all of these things.

  • http://lori-dustypages.blogspot.com/ Lori

    I still read more than I watch movies, even though I don’t read as often as I’d like. I take spells where I read voraciously for days or weeks, and then life gets in the way and I’m doing good to get in a book or two in a month’s time! I do make sure that I read in genre’s other than the one I prefer for my writing. Sometimes that means getting an audio tape and listening in the car or while I’m working around the house. I try to read more biographies and histories than I used to, also.

  • http://lori-dustypages.blogspot.com/ Lori

    I still read more than I watch movies, even though I don’t read as often as I’d like. I take spells where I read voraciously for days or weeks, and then life gets in the way and I’m doing good to get in a book or two in a month’s time! I do make sure that I read in genre’s other than the one I prefer for my writing. Sometimes that means getting an audio tape and listening in the car or while I’m working around the house. I try to read more biographies and histories than I used to, also.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a59920f2970c SBarie

    Vikk, I couldn’t agree with you more. With texting, tweets, video games, etc., we’re losing our vocabulary. And I am just as guilty as anyone. As an aspiring writer, I recently started using a program that has done wonders for my descriptive word vocabulary, and has me painting much more vivid pictures with words. This software has been supplying me with such a unique selection of words that I honestly don’t see myself ever opening my thesaurus again. The program is called Masterwriter, masterwriter.com, and if you watch their demo, they lead off with the very problem you elude to. Thanks for the inspiration and timely material.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a59920f2970c SBarie

    Vikk, I couldn’t agree with you more. With texting, tweets, video games, etc., we’re losing our vocabulary. And I am just as guilty as anyone. As an aspiring writer, I recently started using a program that has done wonders for my descriptive word vocabulary, and has me painting much more vivid pictures with words. This software has been supplying me with such a unique selection of words that I honestly don’t see myself ever opening my thesaurus again. The program is called Masterwriter, masterwriter.com, and if you watch their demo, they lead off with the very problem you elude to. Thanks for the inspiration and timely material.

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