To Write Better, Read More, by Diane Lee Wilson
I believe that every novelist strives to become a better writer, and I find that the craft of writing is improved by reading. So with that in mind, here are a few suggestions:
Read Literature. I’m VERY particular of what I read for pleasure while I’m working on a novel—especially if I’m just starting out and still trying to identify voice and mood and pacing. That’s because I find that whatever I’m reading at night invariably influences my writing the next morning. If my chosen author uses long sentences with many descriptive clauses, I find myself fitting more words between my periods. If the mood of my previous night’s read was somber then my characters tend to mope a bit. So, as peculiar as this may sound, I now go so far as to select for my personal reading a literary quality novel that A) is told in the same viewpoint as the one I’m writing; i.e., first-person narrative if I’m writing in first-person and so on; and B) one that is written in a style to which I aspire.
Now, I know that I am not going to create a Pulitzer-winning novel with my current work, but I’m happy to be inspired by one. Beautiful writing and great storytelling move me to produce. We write, after all, because we love language and stories, right? So choose to read the best books that you can and hope that osmosis works for literary talent.
Read Everything. Stay creatively inspired by reading anything and everything. You never know where you’ll find inspiration for your teen novel. It might be a newspaper article about a rising teen athlete and the challenges he/she combats. An essay in an historical magazine might prompt you to research an interesting teen from an earlier time. A random quote in an on-line publication might prompt you to say: My character would think that same way, and that might send your story in a different direction.
Also read for style. Personally, I love reading any column by a talented sports writer. In a limited amount of space I’m presented with intense drama, vivid language and fascinating personalities. I once again fall in love with the art of writing. I also enjoy perusing essays on the opinion pages of my newspaper where I’m reminded how to write passionately as well as succinctly.
Read Aloud. Sometimes hearing your words voiced helps you critique your work. So, when you’ve finished a chapter and polished it to your very best, let it sit for a day or two, then pull it out and read it aloud. And listen—hard—as you’re reading. Is the magic there? Are you drawn into the story? Are there places where you could improve the writing? Be hard on yourself; where can you make it better?
Read with a Group. Sharing your writing with a group of fellow writers isn’t effective for everyone, but I’ve been in a small group (just three of us) for fifteen years and I find value in two ways. First, I’m accountable. I have to produce. Typically my group meets every two weeks for about ninety minutes. We each email the other two members a chapter (or more) a day or two in advance of the set meeting. Then, after a short “catch-up chat” over coffee, we begin critiquing each other’s work. And here’s the second value: I receive two independent opinions of what I’ve written. Those opinions aren’t always aligned, but I can trust my two co-writers to be honest, and to keep me on my game. I’ve sometimes presented a chapter that I thought was pretty darn good, only to have them both tell me otherwise. Harsh reviews are never easy, but it’s much better to receive them in the early stages of a novel rather than to send a completed manuscript to an editor and have it rejected. Reading my work with my group makes me a better writer.