Another take on getting better

Hey, maybe this is on purpose (had enough of my comments?), but your blog's not letting me leave a comment. There's no word in the verification box. So here's my comment to the guy who lives rurally and can't join a writer's group.

I live in the back and beyond. Read. Read. Read. Then read some more. Then read. Read. Read. And when you're done, read some more. Read what you're interested in writing for now, but also read other things too. Then read some more of what you're interested in. Don't even write. Just read. Have I made my point?

Three years ago, I barely read at all, but boy did I write and all I ever got were nibbles and no thank yous. Now I read 2-4 books PER WEEK and have been for over 2 years. I have an agent who is "seriously considering" me, one in the wings waiting for a full, two manuscripts with a third almost done, and an editor at a big house who will read anything I write without requiring a query because she's sure we're going to find a match soon.

Reading did this for me. If you have to invest in inter-library loan costs, consider it furthering your craft

I have no control over the vagaries of blogger with comments-my world domination skills need a tune up I see.

I think this is a good point, and one not mentioned enough.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree. And as Zadie Smith recently wrote in The Guardian:

"Reading, done properly, is every bit as tough as writing - I really believe that. As for those people who align reading with the essentially passive experience of watching television, they only wish to debase reading and readers. The more accurate analogy is that of the amateur musician placing her sheet music on the stand and preparing to play. She must use her own, hard-won, skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift she gives the composer and the composer gives her."

Some of the best readers are also some of the best writers. Thanks for reminding us of that.

the poopie says said...

I wonder why he can't leave a comment? Maybe Blogger is too busy reading.

Heidi the Hick said...

I totally agree- reading is learning. If we read something amazingly good, it raises the bar for us and inspires us. Sometimes this is mixed with an overwhelming feeling that we'll never be able to write something that good, but we gotta suck it up and raise our own standards.

Reading something extremely bad is frustrating, yes. I read bad stuff and feel red eyed jealous because that crap got published and all I get are rejections! BUT reading crap teaches us what crap is...and not to write it.

I'd also like to add that this here intermittent net is an awesome tool for networking with other writers! I've been finding bloggers who are on the verge of publication and I'm so inspired!! I personally think the internet is wonderful for all of us hicks, hillbillies, yokels, country bumpkins and hermits.

Get reading!

Kimber An said...


Also, if he has Internet access, he can join an on-line group. critiquecircle.com

And he can meet a lot of people by establishing a blog.

Kate Thornton said...

Even if you can't read, do it. I have difficulty seeing the printed word for more than a few minutes at a time. The computer is great, but words on paper hurt the eye that doesn't move (one of my eyes is "lazy") But I listen to 3-4 unabridged books on tape per week.
So even if you have reading difficulties, work around it and read read read. It will help your writing.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Oh, goodness, yes. READ. I cannot tell you how many times I've met an aspiring author who wants some tips on how to get published. Which I'm happy to share. But then I always ask, "So, what's the last book you read?" And - blank stares. Maybe someone will utter the latest Dan Brown/JK Rowkling du jour. But after that - nothing.

If you want to write - and publish - contemporary fiction, you have to read contemporary fiction. Lots of it. There's no better way to learn the craft - and also, to learn what is being published TODAY, not fifty years ago. And there's no excuse for not doing this.

River Falls said...

If you can't join a face-to-face workshop, join the Internet Writing Workshop. It's open to all genres, it's run by volunteers, and it's free.


I was a member when I was an aspiring writer, and I credit the IWW for helping me to become a published writer.

Just Me said...

Absolutely, yes.

There's simply no better way to learn any great art than to study the masters and absorb them through your pores. You've got to be at least as good, if not better to make any impression at all.

My highest compliment to any great writer is always 'Gawd, I wish I'd written that....'

Just Me said...

And in case any of you are thinking: Sure. If I read the masters I'll just end up imitating them...

Not. www.colin-f.com/artists/picasso.html

That's Picasso's self portrait at age 19. He had absolute technical mastery at that age - that's what you learn by studying the best - and then he went his own way. You've got to fully understand your tools before you develop your own interpretation of them.

clarice snarkling said...

Very much agreed. It irks me to the core when I come across aspiring genre fiction writers who don't know what's acceptable, what's trendy, and what's cliched in their chosen genre. I'm a YA lit enthusiast and writer, and it amazes me when people pop up with "YA" manuscripts about 11-year-olds, or they wonder if you can write about characters who drink and smoke, or they wonder "if there's ever been a YA book written about teenage pregnancy." Sheesh! These well-meaning folks could have saved themselves a lot of time by just browsing through the reviews and synopses of some YA books on Amazon. Actually reading 20 - 30 books in their genre would be even better, but sometimes that seems like it's too much to ask of the impatient aspiring novelists of the world. Ah well... that means more room in the publishers' catalogs for the readers among us!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Not that this is exactly on topic, but good spoken English is like music. I'm sure that's true of other languages too.

Writing is influenced strongly by spoken English. A common failing is trying to write better than one speaks. If you don't speak "musically," with good grammar, with pace, with well turned but simple phrasing, you won't write well either.

Reading matters too because it exposes a writer to patterns of "grammatical music." This is not a new thought. The Apostle Paul observed that he used a "pattern" of words. (That's at 2 Timothy 1:13 if you're terminally curious.) He used a Greek word that referred to a student's copying his mater's alphabet. He recognized that more complex speech and writing had patterns.

Aside from the entertainment or learning that comes from observing the well-spoken word, or reading the well-written word, one learns the patterns of thought and expression that work. It becomes art when we develop our own style that is "musical," rhythmic, and refined.

Did ANY of that make sense?

Anonymous said...

As a professional musician for the last forty years, I would say that listening to music is the first and foremost activity required of those who wish to compose or perform at a high level. Not passive listening, but active listening to many pieces many times in order to understand deeply what is heard. For an aspiring writer, reading fulfills the same function.
The greatest musicians are fanatic listeners.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

This is great advice. I am amazed by the number of people who work in my business (film) and yet don't watch a lot of movies. sigh.

I can tell my writing has def. improved since I started reading more. I have a job where I do have to read an incredilbe amount of material for work, but it's in script form. Last year I made a vow to read more novels and find the time to do so.

Rashenbo said...

I often get the issue of no word verification and it seems to be a big issue only on the Miss Snark blog. I end up lurking more than commenting because I lack the patience to deal with it. However, if I shut down all my browsers and do a restart - then I end up seeing the verification. At least for a little while, once I start opening up multiple browsers and launching multiple programs it will eventually stop showing me the verification code.

Richard Lewis said...

I grew up in the Great Yon Beyonder and read whatever I could get my hands on, which automatically led to writing (just as drinking beer leads to...well, never mind).

Yes, read read read. REad lots of fiction in your area of interest, lots of fiction outside it, lots of non-fiction. Heck, even read The Book that Can't Be Read (ULYSSES, of course).

I'm don't agree with Zadie Smith entirely there--nothing wrong with reading just for the sheer lazy pleasure of it.

Kate said...

I'm not a writer, but I'm definitely a reader. I think the Guardian quote is right on. For me, reading is more than absorbing a story - it's participating in it.

I read for entertainment, and it's not particularly deep stuff or great literature. But even the piles of chic lit and dragon books I devour are much more satisfying than watching TV!

canwag said...

I think this post was an answer to an email I sent Miss Snark that she graciously posted on the 26th.

I've been reading since I was 3 years old - that's not an exaggeration, either. I went through Green Eggs 'n Ham when I was three, and by the time I was in 5th grade I was reading Heinlein. (Not understanding a lot, especially the sex parts, you understand, but reading it anyway.) I have been reading all my life. I was confined to bed at the end of June of last year and by the time I was out of bed two and a half weeks later I had read all 14 of Dana Stabenow's "Kate Shugak" series. (The 15th was just published this month.) I read anything and everything, including the dictionary. I already know I'm a halfway decent writer (of course, all us unpublished writers are halfway decent, right?) - but I want to be a REALLY GOOD writer, and for that I need someone who will critique my work, someone who is KNOWLEDGEABLE about writing and who can offer constructive criticism. (I'm currently enrolled in an online writing course; I recently submitted a 500-word assignment, and my instructor's critique of my work contained at least 1 misspelling and a bunch of run-on sentences. VERY FRUSTRATING.)

I noticed a couple of people posted places I can go in the previous comments, so I'm going to go surfing now. Thanks everyone for your comments! (By the way, my favorite book of the year so far has been "Echo Park" by Michael Connelly... boy, can that man WRITE!)

iago said...

Well, I think Zadie Smith is wrong. I think that's a very self-serving point of view.

There is no earthly reason why reading ought to be as tough as writing. No reason at all why reading can't be entertainment for those who want to be entertained and enlightenment for those who want to be enlightened.

The musical analogy should be to the listener, not the musician. How difficult is it to listen to a good piece of music, and be enthralled and moved by it, be it a symphony or a rock song? It's the writer who is the musician of words, who should work hard at honing their art and craft. Don't be trying to get all clever and make it difficult for the reader.

The skill is in making the book effortless to read without it being worthless. To carry the theme, message, whatever to the reader.

Read, read, read. To learn or for the pure pleasure of it - absolutely. And the best writers can make you forget you're reading a book.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

i've always thought this was a given . . . .

Anonymous said...

One thing I did a few years ago was go through about a half dozen books I'd read and enjoyed, and outlined them. I learned a lot about plotting, pacing, etc.

I'm ALWAYS inspired by great books. The pleasure of reading is what made me want to be a writer.

Anonymous said...

well... I'm in the pasture again. If readin' and speakin' good English makes for good writin'... since moving to Arkansas, I've become fluent in Duck, Goose, squirrel, quail, owl, hawk, crow, turkey, dove, deer and wild pig! (pig ain't hard tho, just a grunt)

And ain't a one of 'em read.

Haste yee back ;-)

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear In the Pasture,

I thought speaking Goat was an essential. It is, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Sorry darlun, in Arkansas, Goats is what ya keep in yer front yard to eat washin' machines, rusted cars, used baby toys and diapers, fast food wrappers, any kinda soup can... well, ya know just about ever thang what's throwed out the house whilest spring cleanin.' We watch 'em, but we narry palaver to 'em.

Now cows is dif'ernt... good cheap nervous thearpy can be had along any country road. Jes, pull over and start spillin' yer heart to the cows what come over. They's non-judgin,' and got sweet eyes like blossomed out full-growed chocolate cotton.

Haste yee back ;-)

Air conditionin' here is takin' the front door off its' hinges!

writtenwyrdd said...

Besides reading, well, there's reading like a writer. Find stuff you like and read it to see the structure. Take notes of really great things you see. Pay attention to what makes you breathless, angry, annoys you.

Oh, and read what you like to write that is from first time published writers, so you know what is getting the nod.

writtenwyrdd said...

"Writing is influenced strongly by spoken English. A common failing is trying to write better than one speaks. If you don't speak "musically," with good grammar, with pace, with well turned but simple phrasing, you won't write well either."

Sorry, Shael, I disagree. I think that someone who writes well understands the vagueries of the language and can write in vernacular or formal English. Speaking like the common man whereever you live isn't necessarily a receipe for poor writing.

PS when the page doesn't provide the word verification, copy your post and refresh the page. It should show up, and if the post is missing, you can just paste it back into the comment field.

A Reader said...

I agree with Zadie Smith, it is definitely demeaning to compare reading with watching Television.

Salman Rushdie says in his book 'Imaginary Homelands' that as a reader keeps on reading, they will find certain books that open the doors through which the readers pass, to become writers.