There are two pieces of writing advice that I can guarantee every aspiring author received (on numerous occasions) while pursuing their writing ambitions. The first advice is “read a lot,” and the second is “write a lot.” Both are simple, straightforward tips that likely seem so obvious you might wonder why anyone would find it necessary to give such advice. But there is a reason this advice is repeated so frequently; they are both crucial activities in helping writers to perfect their craft. And here are my thoughts as to why this is so.
Starting with the recommendation to read a lot, there are numerous benefits to be derived from being well read. The more you read the works of authors who have preceded you, the more you will learn about the various elements of the craft of writing that are integral to good storytelling. It is likely you will absorb many of these lessons without even consciously thinking about it; and before you know it you’ll start gaining an awareness and appreciation for things such as pacing, story structure, grammar rules, description, plotting, dialogue, characterisation, foreshadowing etc.
Once you begin taking on board these different facets of fiction writing from the books you read, you’ll be better equipped to incorporate these things into how you tackle your own stories. It’s especially helpful when you are able to identify authors who are great at something you would like to emulate in your own writing. Reading the work of such authors will go along way to helping you become the writer you want to be.
To illustrate the above point, I’ll give an example of one aspect of storytelling that I feel I have successfully incorporated into my own writing thanks to reading the work of another author. James Clemens aka James Rollins (the author in question) has an uncanny ability to write genuinely page-turning stories; his narratives effortlessly compel readers to keep turning the page to find out what happens next. This was something at the forefront of my mind throughout the writing of my debut novel, The Exercise Of Vital Powers. I really wanted my book to achieve and maintain the kind of momentum that would not only immerse readers into the story but also cause them to feel compelled to keep turning the page. Based on the reaction I have received so far, I think I can say with confidence that I succeeded in that goal.
There are several other aspects of my writing I still want to improve upon. Metaphors and similes are just one example of a serious weakness that I would like to address, which is why I currently try to avoid using them. Fortunately, there are authors out there who excel in the areas I want to work on, and I know which of them I need to keep reading if I want to turn my weaknesses into strengths. If I want to be adept with metaphors and similes, Lian Hearn (pen-name of Gillian Rubinstein) is exceptionally good at utilising them. If I want to write beautiful prose with lyrical flow, I need to keep reading the works of Lois McMaster Bujold. If I want to improve my descriptive writing I need to read more Guy Gavriel Kay. And if I want to combine great characterisation with all of the above, I need to continue reading and re-reading Jacqueline Carey.
As for the benefits of the advice to write a lot, that can be summed up in the idiom that “practice makes perfect.” The more you write, the better your writing will become. I have noticed in my own writing that as time progresses the quality of my writing keeps improving. Every now and then I’ll look back at something I wrote in the past, and the further back I go the more I tend to cringe at what I see. I can honestly say that my writing today is leaps and bounds better than my writing ten years ago, yet it’s probably not as good as it (hopefully) will be in ten years time.
So there you have it, my thoughts on the value of the two most commonly given writing tips for aspiring authors. Be sure to keep reading more, and writing more; it will make you a better writer.
Thanks for reading,