First, Be a Reader

I’m always flummoxed when I ask authors who their favorite writers are and at least a few answer, “Oh, I don’t have time to read.”

I understand when you’re working on a book, you might not want the voices in your head to be muddled by someone else’s….but never read? How can that be?

I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. I like to joke that I learned to read by osmosis. When I was about three years old, my grandmother sat me on her lap out on her front porch. She had a tattered old Dick and Jane reader, most likely left behind in her yard as she lived about two blocks from an elementary school.  She began to read aloud, pointing at each word as she said it. I started to chime in and eventually she stopped and I kept going. The patterns of the letters made sense to me, and only once in awhile did I have to stop and ask about a word.

I went from Dick and Jane to Nancy Drew, Little Women, the Five Little Peppers, and anything I could get my hands on–including the books my older cousin hid under his mattress. Although I didn’t understand everything in those paperbacks, I knew they were exciting and I never told on him.

I’ve read over 100 books this year, mostly for enjoyment, but also consciously looking for ways to improve my writing. I was always told if you want to be successful, study others who are achieving success in your field of endeavor. As a self-published author, I sometimes focus solely on others’ marketing and engagement efforts. That’s only a small piece of the puzzle though. I wanted to  spend just as much time looking at the craft behind the writing of good books.

Want to know how to build suspense?  Stephen King is still, well, king. If you’re interested in creating a real psychological mind-fuck of a book, read I Am the Cheese. Need to have a big battle scene? Check out the battle of the Blackwater in A Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones).

I’m not saying to copy or plagiarize–never, never, never! What I’m suggesting is none of us must reinvent the wheel. Learn from the best. When a novice film director wants to create a movie full of suspense, he looks to Hitchcock for  inspiration. Find the gold standard in your genre, and be open to the notion that that might mean reading books written prior to the digital age.

They knew a thing or two about how to write back then. Trust me.

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