I know. You’ve heard it a million times. If you want to be a good writer, you’ve got to read a lot.
Stephen King even said that a writer who doesn’t have the time to read doesn’t have the tools to write.
I’m a voracious reader. But my reading has taken on a whole new meaning.
Let me explain.
Last week was the week from hell for me. My husband and three kids were all sick. Sore throats, stuffy noses, fevers, vomiting. Yeah, ALL that.
Needless to say, with keeping track of medicines, making soups and whatever else grumpy sick people want to eat, and wiping everything down to keep the germs from multiplying, I got no writing done.
But I was determined to be productive and not fall off track.
What did I do?
A few weeks ago I decided on writing in the thriller genre. I have a list of 100 must-read thrillers (as published by NPR). I also added some books to that list that I’ve heard were also really great.
Last week, in between tending playing nurse to my sickos, I read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.
I know. James Bond.
As a girl I HATED James Bond movies. Probably because my brother and father used to watch those weekend marathons that always seemed to air when it was raining cats and dogs and escape to the outdoors wasn’t possible.
Once I got past the first few pages of story set-up (B-O-R-I-N-G), I actually enjoyed the book. I read it in one sitting. My husband, who is painfully aware of my hatred for all things Bond, found this rather amusing.
Who knew the man who wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (yeah, he wrote that) could write such a great thriller. His writing was so crisp I could not only see the action in my mind’s eye, but I could hear it.
After that, I was inspired to read How To Write a Damn Good Thriller by James N. Frey. I took notes. I went back to passages in Casino Royale and made the connection to things Frey said goes into a good thriller.
I read somewhere once you should write down, by hand, passages of your favorite books. It teaches your subconscious the mechanics of how something is written. I’m not sure if it will actually work, but I figured there’s no harm in trying. So I wrote down some of my favorite passages from Fleming’s book.
You become the best by studying the best, right?
It worked. Something clicked. I started to see the mechanics behind the writing. The rhythm of the words and the way a scene moves stood out to me for the first time. I looked at some of my own work and right away saw things I could take out to make my stories move.
For five days I wrote down and studied passages I liked. I guess you could say I was writing, but they weren’t my words. I read like a writer, not a book lover. What a difference there is between the two methods! I found myself stopping more often to figure out what I liked about the writing and why I liked it.
You might be thinking reading that way takes the joy out of writing. In fact, it does the opposite, especially if you’re a writer. You can see a formula emerge in the books you read — things writers do in each story — that work for them. You can try those things out in your own stories (the methods, not the words). If you do that enough, your own style will surely emerge.
So even though this past week wore me out physically, what I learned about writing — without writing — made it all worth it.
When you find yourself in a situation where writing isn’t possible, don’t panic! Grab a book and read — like a writer.