Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Writer's Guide to Reading

Our thoughts go out to all those in Queensland Australia, hit last night so heavily by Cyclone Yasi. We hope all those displaced will soon be able to rebuild their lives. We'll be there for you.

Many writers and writers' groups in South Australia have already pledged support, emotionally and materially. We too, wish you well.

Ask any successful writer. You can't be a great writer unless you read voraciously - and for all the right reasons. There is a huge difference between reading for pleasure and reading as a writer. Sometimes this is a subtle difference - and actually quite hard to delineate and practice.

As a writer, you'll find you'll need to constantly remind yourself that reading is, for you, a form of study - not just of the information you pick up but, more essentially, the way that information is related.

Reading for Pleasure

Many writers start writing as a way of giving back. Over time, they receive so much pleasure from reading that the natural extension is to want to give as much pleasure as they have received.

Bit like sex, in that way...

As human beings we have an innate desire to communicate and share our experiences. Reading has a way of providing a hot line from one human brain to another. A writer's experience becomes, if not vicariously, the reader's. Realization of this is sometimes a would-be writer's light-bulb moment.

Reading for Research

If you've ever embarked on a non-fiction work, you'll know that research is needed to appear informed. There are two ways writers embark on this activity.

One, the writer researches all aspects of a topic and then orders the information to present an informed view. This is in the great tradition of classical empiricism handed down to us by intellects like Plato and Aristotle.

Two, more common these days, is the formulation of a hypothesis - then deliberately finding research to prove a premise. Some writers justify all kinds of wild ideas because they've collected the 'evidence' to prove them - and though this can be an entertaining art form in itself, is ultimately a self fulfilling prophetic game.

You can pretty much prove anything if you're desperate enough - or have an agenda that transcends the 'truth'.

My best advice in this area is not to start believing that research is writing - it's not. It's reading!

Reading for Study

We are all students at some times in our lives. Writers remain students - or should do. Any expert will do well to keep informed of their area of expertise. Good writers have the advantage of being constantly interested in new ideas - and the need to verify the veracity of their instincts.

Even when writing fiction, writers need to be able to prove, if only to themselves, that their stories are believable. From small details like whether or not Vancouver has an airport - to more metaphysical concepts like the science behind alternate dimensions or the psychology of vampirism.

Plus, of course, the study of writing itself. We must learn from other writers in order to improve. How did they approach their craft? What do they have to say about it? What were their writing routines? All this information can help you

Reading for Catharsis

I read somewhere that only one percent of people who buy self help books actually read them all the way through. If this is so, then the whole self help industry would seem to be based on the idea that people buy self help books for an emotional need that quickly disappears when they arrive home!

But reading about a problem - and its possible solutions - while you're experiencing it, can be a no doubt comforting experience.

So much so that writers with emotional, physical or spiritual issues are drawn to recording their own experiences in the hope of helping others - and selling their books in the process. And while this a noble idea in some respects, it would be remiss of me of not to mention that this often does not equate to substantial book sales - probably because publishers are well aware of that pesky 1% statistic!

Reading for Identification

There would be no fiction or autobiographies or many other kinds of books without the need for people to identify with others.

Humans want to be like, or at least feel like, their heroes. They want to experience the mindsets of people or characters that represent their dreams, goals and ideals. And what better way than through reading?

Of course we may identify with characters or celebrities or historical figures on TV and in movies but there's really nothing quite so personal as experiencing their stories through the written word.

Am I right? Of course I am!

Reading for Inspiration

The Chicken Soup for the Soul series has proved - amongst many other things - that there is a need for people to feel inspired.

The lives of great explorers, scientists and again, celebrities, can invigorate and entertain us and often provide the necessary stimulus for action.

The human brain is a fickle thing. It's easy for us to feel let down or discouraged. It's not just writers that need to be motivated. We all need a little pep talk sometimes. We all need to feel there's a way through a problem - and that the answer can lie within ourselves - and often we just to read something uplifting to make us aware of that.

Reading for Profit

Whenever we want to change our fortunes or pursue another career path - especially one that makes money for us - then 99% of the time we'll need to read up on something.

The simple act of reading can literally change our lives for the better.

It can lift us up, comfort us and provide a means of escape - in every meaning of the word.

Never underestimate the power of reading - or the myriad ways it can help your writing.

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"My task… is to make you hear, to make you feel - and, above all, to make you see. That is all, and it is everything." Joseph Conrad
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