The day I started to write this post, rain pelted against the windows and there was a rumour of snow. I’ve since had my winter tires installed and my thoughts are now turning to homemade soup, warm sweaters and comfy fleece. My thoughts are also turning to books. If you are like me, you have literally stacks of books waiting to be read. Winter will provide me with the perfect time to do just that.
I was bitten by the reading bug early. An older cousin worked part-time at the Riverdale branch of the Toronto Public Library at Broadview and Gerrard Avenues. My family visited her family every few weeks, and she’d always have a big bag of books waiting for me. As a young girl, I loved to immerse myself in adventure, mystery, magic and suspense that lay between the pages. I think that my early love of reading helped to foster both my love of writing, and of language.
I believe writers need to be readers. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” says Stephen King. Why? There are many reasons. The following suggestions address them:
- read analytically to improve your craft. If you want to write realistic dialogue, read examples of great dialogue. Analyze what makes it work, taking notes about what you learn. Similarly, if you want to describe setting well, find great examples in your reading and identify why the passages made you feel that you were right there in that place
- immerse yourself in another writer’s imagination. By seeing how freely the writer used their imagination, you may be inspired to give your own imagination freer rein
- read different genres – it makes sense to read work in your preferred genre, such as memoir, literary fiction, or short story. But consider exploring genres you don’t normally read, such as speculative fiction or historical romance to see how those authors tell their stories
- read different forms of writing – consider reading drama and poetry, to further explore how stories are told in forms other than prose
- learn from what doesn’t work. When a book doesn’t engage you, you don’t have to force yourself to finish it. Instead, analyze why you aren’t engaged. Learn from the experience and apply that learning to your own writing
- expand your vocabulary. As you read, write down words that are new to you, along with their definitions, then use them in your writing
- read authors from different cultures – you will expose yourself to other ways of being, thinking, and acting and learn about life in parts of the world very different from your own
- start a book club with some of your writing friends. You can read books together, and focus on questions of craft as part of your discussions
- relaxation and enjoyment. Reading is enjoyable and might even help to educe stress; sometimes it’s a lot more enjoyable than writing. You could consider rewarding yourself for meeting a writing goal by taking some time away to read
Here are a few books you may find useful on your reading journey:
- “Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them” by Francine Prose, HarperCollins, 2006. Click HERE to read a book summary.
- “How To Read and Why” by Harold Bloom, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
I’ve covered the “why” of reading; now it’s time to take a lighthearted look at the “where”, as you prepare for some degree of hibernation with your books over the next several months.
A Comfortable Place to Read
You’ll enjoy your reading time more if you have a comfortable place to read.
- how about a comfy chair, tucked into a cosy nook or the corner of the sofa?
- and small side table for holding cups of tea or coffee and sweet treats
- and a footstool, of course
- you’re not going to want to spend a great deal of time in your nook if you can’t see the words on the page clearly
- consider investing in a high quality reading lamp, one with adjustable brightness levels
- while not essential, a furry feline can be a most companionable addition to your reading nook; one who will occasionally draw attention to words and phrases by pawing the page as you try to turn it
Reading can make you a better writer. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, and where.
Until next time,
Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, December 1. We hope you can join us.
If you enjoyed reading this post, why not subscribe to our blog? Just enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top right hand corner of this page. The names of new subscribers in November will be entered in a draw to win a copy of Brenda Ueland’s classic book, “If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.” Our winner in October was Isobel Warren who will receive a copy of “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.