Written by JJ Barnes
I write about writing, and I talk about writing, a lot. My articles and videos talk about characterisation, story structure, show don’t tell, and more. All of that is relevant and important, and I love to talk about those things. But this time I’m talking about reading. I’m a big believer that the best writers are readers, and this is true of so many of the best writers in the world.
Tess Gallagher On Reading
“When you start reading in a certain way, that’s already the beginning of your writing. You’re learning what you admire and you’re learning to love other writers. The love of other writers is an important first step. To be a voracious, loving reader.”
Finding the writes you particularly respond to helps you develop your own style. Your voice will be informed and developed by those you admire. It’s through listening to those we respect and admire that we learn the kind of people we want to be, and the same is true of reading other writers.
When you’ve found the style of book, the style of work, you love, you have something to learn from. What is it that makes that special? Whatever it is you’re responding to, find it in yourself. Find that magic and spark and pour it into your own writing because if you love it, others will too.
Equally so, if you find something in the works of others that you don’t enjoy, remember it. If there is a style of dialogue you can’t connect to, learn from it. When characters are written in a way you can’t connect to, work out why. Learning from what we don’t enjoy is just as important as learning from what we do.
Natalie Goldberg On Reading
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source.”
When we consume stories, they become part of us. I remember stories I read as a child and how they shaped me and taught me to love the written words. The books my mother pushed towards me as a teenager shaped my development into a woman. Books have a huge impact on who I am and what I love. And this love of books is so much of why I wanted to write myself.
If your love of books informed your desire to write, remember that. The source of your love, the source of your inspiration and excitement, remains in the books of others. Read them and let that passion and excitement fill you with creativity. The better the books you read, the better that passion will be. Writers are putting their creative energy into the world and it can fill you with creative energy of your own.
Edward Albee On Reading
“If you are going to learn from other writers don’t only read the great ones, because if you do that you’ll get so filled with despair and the fear that you’ll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did that you’ll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. It’s very encouraging. “Hey, I can do so much better than this.”“
Writers block can come from so many places, and imposter syndrome is a real one. As inspiring and exciting as the best books are, they can fill us with inadequacy. Being an inexperienced writer, perhaps one without a family or network celebrating your work, can be hard.
Something important to remember is people love to read. They want stories. Stories are being written and made constantly, and the world cannot get enough. You don’t have to be a master with decades of experience and shelves of awards. You can just be a person filled with a love of story and a desire to write.
You’ll get better the more you write. Your first book might not be the best thing you ever write, but then it shouldn’t be. You get better the more you do something, so it makes sense you learn and improve the more you write. Don’t let a fear of never being as good as the best writers in the world stop you from being any kind of writer. Not everybody loves the masters, but almost everybody loves stories.
Tony Hillerman On Reading
“When I was teaching writing — and I still say it — I taught that the best way to learn to write is by reading. Reading critically, noticing paragraphs that get the job done, how your favorite writers use verbs, all the useful techniques. A scene catches you? Go back and study it. Find out how it works.“
There are so many beautiful ways to use language, and most education doesn’t explore it, unless you’re specifically studying creative writing and literature. When you read a good book, read it with focus. Notice the way sentences are putting together. How is language used to create beautiful images in your head. When you read with the eye of learning, you’ll notice them rather than just experiencing them
When you notice something that sounds out as brilliant, work out how it is done. Think of writing like cooking. If you eat a particularly delicious meal, you might research what flavours have been used. How have those ingredients been used to create that finished effect. You can then do something similar, but original, using those techniques. Writing is the same. If you experience some writing that is particularly delicious, work out how the ingredients of language have been used to create that final flavour.
Read Because Stories Are Wonderful
There is no superior way to consume stories, in my opinion. Whether it’s books, film, TV, plays, or poetry it doesn’t matter. You’re consuming the imagination and creativity of someone passionate enough to write, and stories are wonderful. But, I also believe variety is so very important.
You can come to a rich understanding of character work through a play, explore story structure by the way a film is built. Those techniques are universally applicable across story telling, be it read or performed. But you can only really understand the structure of a beautiful book by reading one. The use of langauge, the way sentences flow.
Why I Love Books
Stories I grew up loving are still with me. Films inspired me to imagine, TV shows made me weep and long to forge that sort of emotional bond with my own audience. But books. Books are so very personal. It’s just you and those pages. What you see is what you see alone. The faces you give them are seen by nobody else. Those are your pictures and they’re personal and they’re yours.
If you love books enough to write them, you should love them enough to read them. Because books are a unique magic.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose