Getting Started – Read

The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an idea of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary. 

– JK Rowling

I’m always surprised when I meet an aspiring writer who isn’t also an avid reader. I’m never sure how they intend to develop their craft without doing research into what has worked for the authors who’ve been published before them.

How do you find time to read more? Stephen King suggests you take a book to anywhere you’ll have some time to yourself – and yes he does include the toilet. With the availability of such a wide variety of audio-books these days it’s not difficult to incorporate ‘reading’ into outdoor activities and your exercise regime. E-readers let you take multiple books whenever you travel. You can cut down on other leisure activities such as TV watching. I also seem to sacrifice a reasonable amount of sleep.

If you are new to writing then you need to read a lot. It will help to inspire your first plot ideas. It’s also important to find out what styles of writing you enjoy reading. When working on your first book, you’re much more likely to make it through to the end if you enjoy what you’re writing about and the style of writing you’ve adopted. Writing is a solitary pursuit, just you and your pad/screen. If you aren’t enjoying yourself then it is too easy to become distracted or disheartened and just give up.

There are conflicting opinions about whether you should concentrate on reading ‘good’ writing. For a start, it’s reasonably subjective what constitutes ‘good’ – does it need to be flawless prose or just a darned enjoyable read to qualify? Does this mean that only the acknowledged classics or recent best-sellers count? Personally, I think any book that has made into print or onto your e-reader is worth a look. Sometimes it can be just as important to work out why a book doesn’t work (at least for you) as why it does. I’ve also found some fantastic new authors by being ready to take a chance on something new and unknown.

Do keep in mind that you are reading as research. I suggest taking notes of the good and the bad points – particular descriptive words or phrases, a plot point, interesting dialogue that you could adapt, sections that feel ‘flabby’, or anything else that strikes you as usable or to avoid. With a book that you’re not enjoying, doing this while you read through is easy. With writing that grabs you and refuses to be interrupted, enjoy the read and then go back to dissect it afterwards. Try to work out what it was that got your attention, fired your imagination and wouldn’t let go. To be thorough, also try to identify any areas that didn’t work so well – I didn’t say this was easy. It’s probably easier for a reader to forgive unnecessary sub-plots or overly descriptive language in an otherwise really good book. On the flip side, even a really difficult read can have the germ of a great idea.

What matters is that in no time, you can have built up a reference source of tips and hints, vocabulary and plot devices; a unique resource for you to develop your writing.

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