How much of your precious time do you save to read about writing? Here are five critical reasons for spending some of your invaluable “off-writing” time reading advice about the craft and process of writing.
Writers are encouraged to read endlessly. Read voraciously. Read for enjoyment. Read to learn how it is done. Read to take notes from the best authors in the world as you pore over their pages. Reading is an essential job for writers. It is not a pastime but an obligation. Ideally, it borders on obsession.
Except, of course, when it stops you from writing.
So, how much of your precious time do you save to read about writing? Here are five critical reasons for spending some of your invaluable “off-writing” time reading advice about the craft and process of writing.
- Develop yourself
Learning is part of growing, and as a writer, it’s seems obvious you should read as part of the learning process. But you have to make a conscious decision to learn this way and do it with regularity.
Staying focused on reading about writing takes some effort. Think about what you are working on in your writing and research what others have written on the subject. If you are having problems with plot, characters, setting descriptions, or any other feature of your book, invest the time to do some research.
If you have a library nearby, take a stroll down the aisle of writing advice. Picking up just one book might change how you work on your current project. Even just skim it. You are just looking for ideas. Only take the time to read in depth if you find something of interest.
Those of you who already do a lot of this type of reading, be encouraged that you are on the right path – as long as you are not consuming large quantities of writing advice just to avoid your own writing. In that case, reading is never sufficient justification. Ultimately, you learn most by writing yourself. It’s the cycle of writing and reading that brings about the best results.
Gaining knowledge is the single best reason for reading, aside from entertainment. But if you’ve set this time aside for learning, then don’t spend it amusing yourself – read writing advice and try to put it to use.
It’s not just learning how to write that is important, use these resources to learn what kind of writer you are. We all write differently. Figuring out how and why we tick as writers is key to being happier and more productive. Consuming writing advice can considerably speed up this process of self-study.
When you read the thoughts, advice, and experiences of other writers, and those who teach writing, you broaden your view of what it means to be a writer. You also understand better where you fit in. You might even figure out how and why you are unique. While this might sound scary, it is often the path to enlightenment, both in terms of personal satisfaction and financial success. All writers are told to find their voice. Your voice must be unique to you.
- Push along your own project
Why not use your reading time to work indirectly on your own book project? Reading writing advice, even when you think at first it might not apply to you, is an excellent way to ignite your creative fires. You always have your story in the back of your mind. When you read writing advice, you are naturally applying it to a semi-external critique your own story. You can imagine what this other author might think if she applied her advice to your work. How might it stand up?
If you aren’t doing this consciously, you should. Often you’ll find new ways to look at your own work. You’ll uncover things you hadn’t thought of before. Sometimes, this kind of “prompt” thinking just pushes you faster down a path you knew you’d be set to take anyway.
Looking at your story from another angle can be a great source of “eureka!” moments. New parts of your brain are awoken. If you’ve been focused on characters and you read an article about plot development you might just trigger a new view of your characters through the actions they take. Giving yourself a shake-up is excellent. Like a shower in the morning, it revives and refreshes overstretched brain cells. You can specifically go searching for ideas on how to take a new look at your book from various perspectives. In fact, I wrote a post last year on “Eleven Ways To Take A New Look At Your Story.”
- Work through an impasse
We all often reach an impasse – times where progress seems impossible. I’d qualify this as different from writer’s block, in which you just stare at a blank page. An impasse is when you have lots of ideas and words around you, but you don’t know how to fix something you know is broken. At this point, reading how other writers fixed similar problems can be super handy. If nothing else, it gives your aching brain a rest.
There might be a quick fix or a trick you don’t know. Reading might just fill in the gap. This means reading widely because you don’t know in advance where your gaps are. Or just look up keywords describing whatever you are thinking about at the time.
Many writers write intuitively. Putting a name to the problem you are having and realizing it is not an uncommon problem can help you find solutions. Sometimes you know you have a problem in your writing, but you just can’t put a finger on it. Sometimes you know exactly what the problem is but you just can’t give it a name. Likely, if you are suffering it, others have too. Putting a name to it is a powerful way to bring it into focus, give it weight, and conquer it.
- Be in the know
If you are around writers, you’ll want to be in the know. You don’t particularly want to get caught out not knowing basic things that are common in writerly parlance. There is a lot of specialist language that has cropped up around the art of writing and the process of publishing. Being aware of it is more than a matter of being able to keep up at parties. Knowing the concepts named by these words is what matters – and only as far as it helps you reach your writing goals. Do you know the difference between a plotter and a pantser? More importantly, do you know which one you are? Could you achieve your writing goals faster, better, or with more satisfaction if you did?
Reading about writing can be a crucial aspect of understanding the patterns in your own work and how you can build on them. Having a rich vocabulary of concepts about writing helps you think critically. Knowledge of the craft and art of writing separates amateurs from professionals in the eyes of editors and publishers – and in the eyes of readers as well.
Boning up on writing concepts is not about superficial knowledge of the “words du jour” for those who want to show off, but about gaining a deeper knowledge of what makes great writing and how to talk about it. It’s also not about stifling your creative juices, but about enriching your writing in positive ways.
- A reminder of why you write
One of the most reassuring and comforting reasons to read writing advice is to revisit why you are moved to write in the first place. Even when writers are banging on about how painful and soul-robbing writing can be, you still feel “they get it.” If you love writing, writers are kindred spirits. You seek out this special horde when you join a writing group, go to conferences, and even when you read others writers’ books.
You like the writing life and the special challenges it brings with it. Reading about writing reinforces your interests in writing. It can inspire you to get back to the keyboard with new fervor. Sometimes, finding writing advice you don’t agree with, or can’t relate to, can be just the right thing as well. You don’t have to agree with everything you read. You might just learn you have a better way of doing things. That’s one of the best lessons.
Dr. Dawn Field is a book lover interested in what makes great writing. After a 20-year career as a research scientist, her first book, Biocode, was published by Oxford University Press. Now a columnist of The Double Helix, Dr. Field is exploring new writing venues and writing a second book. Based in Virginia, Dr. Field is looking to collaborate with a range of fiction writers as a writing coach, editor, and consultant on the publishing process: [email protected]