Saturday, May 12, 2012

Reading-A Cheap Excuse?!?

Writers have long known that reading, like doing laundry and scrubbing floors, is a cheap excuse to avoid writing. Naturally I justify such behavior with the reasoning that it feeds my writer’s soul, which is true…though not always my reason for reading. Still, I don’t think writers are alone in this diversion from life’s responsibilities. Clearly, a good book has always been a good escape, and may be a healthier version of avoidance behavior than heavy drinking or bungee jumping!

When I’m in need of total avoidance so I choose a book that will completely suck me into its literary web like a good murder mystery or heart racing thriller. However, if I’m in search of a mild diversion I’ll opt for either non-fiction or a classic, perhaps Jane Austen or Willa Cather. In fact, I feel reading those gals elevates my writing…makes me want to be a better me, writing-wise.

Of course, you don’t have to be a writer to escape into a good book. If that were the case there would be no such thing as the good ‘beach read’! Personally, there’s nothing like the latest Stephanie Plum mystery. It goes down easy and can be picked up at a moment’s notice-- like just in time to avoid conversation with that strange person sitting next to you on the plane, or when you need to hide out from the relatives at a family gathering. Not that I’d ever do that…

But you don’t need a special occasion or even a cheap excuse to read a good book! A well told story is as excellent a companion during lunch as it is on your CD player in rush hour or in the wee hours of the night when you are all alone in your alternate reality of choice. Whatever your literary proclivities, enjoy them-no apologies necessary!

Photo courtesy:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reading: A Source of Inspiration?

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most writers started out as avid readers. Somewhere along the way they felt the need to take the pen…or these days, the keyboard, into their own hands. Still, the desire to create our own tales does not mean we no longer wish to read. On the contrary, in some ways it makes us want to read all the more!

Reading can be an incredible way to learn the craft of writing. In fact, I found I became a much slower reader after I started writing in earnest. True, it’s a frustrating tradeoff for me, particularly because I was never much of a speed reader to begin with. But when I am following another author’s literary breadcrumbs I’m not just losing myself in their story, I’m also paying attention to how that story is told.

Writers learn so much about structure, plot, character development and more from reading the works of other writers. Of course, we all are gladly sucked along as the drama, joy and plot twists unfold. But eventually I’ll find myself stepping back and thinking about how they did that, and why. Where the clues were planted in a mystery or where the turning points came in a history.

I notice how they handle dialogue, and develop the action in ways that push the plot where they want it to go. I notice surprising events and interesting words…and sometimes I notice when things don’t go well and I’m pulled out of the story and forced against my will to wonder what the heck the author was thinking—never a good thing!

For instance, I think there should be a ban on the image of someone ‘shrugging’ out of a piece of clothing for ten to twenty years. Or at the very least you should only be allowed to ‘shrug’ once per book. Really, it’s overused. Not to mention ‘macadam’. Honestly, who says that??

You can see how a writer’s juices get stirred up from reading the work of others. Sometimes the urge is so great it feels like a buzz in your body you can’t shake until you put it into your own words. Sure, that empty page or blank screen can be intimidating, but a writer, I think, is already listening to the words in his or her head, calling to be placed upon that page.

Next week: Reading: A Cheap Excuse?