Friday, April 29, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 4 of 10)

4. We Read. A Lot. Often. Constantly.

As serious writers, we read, and we do so in a variety of areas, always seeking to know more about writing and about our world. We read in our genre, but we read outside our field.

Too often I meet want-to-be writers who don't read—people who don't like to read—and yet they feel they must write. That doesn't make sense to me. Someone said it's like hating horses while raising herds of them, and lecturing around the country on how to love your horse. It's not only hypocritical; it won't work.

Professional writers don't like to read---they're compulsive and must read. They snatch minutes whenever possible to fill their eyes and minds with words and new thoughts.

Words are our tools and we examine their meanings. We feel them and we learn to distinguish between when to use small or little, tiny, miniscule, or minute. We read and pick up nuances of meaning, marvel at the expressive efforts of others, or groan at the lack of skill in our own manuscripts.

We absorb techniques and ideas when we read, mostly unconsciously. We find ourselves absorbed and challenged by writers who are better than we are. And there are always writers who are superior.

We read for pleasure but even then we read to learn and to grow. Every article or book we read becomes a teacher. As we read, we ask questions. Why did she start the story there? What does that word mean? Why did he use the subjunctive mood?

Professional writers are compulsive readers.


  1. Cec, Wise words. Early in my road to writing, an editor told me to read Peace Like A River. It made me cry--not because of the subject matter, but because I didn't think I'd ever be able to write that well.
    Alton Gansky told me at the start of my journey, "Once you begin writing, you'll never read the same way again." And he was right.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree with Richard's comments. I think that's true with all serious writers. Part of our growth shows by our awareness of the weaknesses of other writers.

    And like Richard, I had a simliar response when I began to read Dean Kontz's earlier works (I don't like most of them these days). Many, many times, I wished I could write that well.

    I don't feel that way now, and it's not that I think I'm better than he is. I've stopped comparing AND I've developed my voice and my style. I know also that I'm a better writer today than I was 10 years ago.

  3. I've been following for months now, but this is my first comment.

    I just wanted to thank you for your description of the writer/reader. You nailed it. I've never heard it described so perfectly...have never been able to explain why I read constantly to my husband (who hates reading.)

    So, thank you.


  4. Clarification: I don't read to my husband. I have a hard time explaining TO MY HUSBAND why I read constantly.

    When I read my comment back, it sounded funny. :)

  5. I've spoken with fellow professional writers who claim they don't read or don't like to read. This doesn't seem wise or--in my word-driven world--possible.

    When my children don't answer because a book has their attention or drop a book in the dishwater because they're reading as they scrub, I can do little but smile. They've seen their mother do these same things.

    Once, I had to purchase a library book because I left it open on our smooth-top stove. I unwittingly turned on the wrong burner and added a deep brown circle to its cover.

    Oh, and the book left open on my bathroom counter this morning? (I haven't dropped any toothpaste on it, I promise.) CODE BLUE by Richard Mabry.

  6. I’m amazed at people who hate to read. I’m almost as amazed at hearing writers say, “I hate to rewrite.” Where is the pride of craft? Where is the desire to improve?

  7. Great post Cec. I sat under your teaching at last year's She Speaks Conference and I'm hoping to come back this year. I was thrilled to find your blog and I've been following for a few months now.

    If I had no other responsibilities, I would read all the time. I get lost in the written word and I've always loved writing.

    When I was in graduate school, the reading level of the books I was given skyrocketed as compared to undergrad. There were many days that I could be found lying on the floor with my book on the left and a dictionary on the right. It was tedious. But I learned so much about the value of challenging myself as a reader and a writer during that time (not to mention strengthening my vocabulary!)

    Thanks for your voice Cec.

  8. So true, Cec. I am compelled to write all over books--underline, draw hearts, figure out how the novelist is putting his/her characters together. I don't like to leave the house without a book. At night as my husband watches sports, I sit beside him and read. Bliss~~~

  9. Amazing! Now, when I am teased from my family for packing my bag of books before my clothing when I am packing for a trip, I can tell them well Cec says to be a good writer, we must read. Thank you,also, for the comment "Many, many times, I wished I could write that well.

    I don't feel that way now, and it's not that I think I'm better than he is. I've stopped comparing AND I've developed my voice and my style. I know also that I'm a better writer today than I was 10 years ago." What an encouragement to us newbies!

  10. Cec,

    I have read compulsively all my life, starting as a young child. When I decided to pursue my dream of writing, one thing was a relief. I could now justify all that reading and call it work. :)

    When my husband and I were first married, I went to a family gathering and mentioned a book I was reading. My SIL said, "What, you have time to read?" I gave her a deer in headlights look and kind of shrugged.

    I've had to tell white lies about how much I read many times. People assume you're a slacker if you read several books a week. But they all know the current sitcoms (I don't) and no one bats an eye. Whether people are writers or not, it's a shame that reading is such a rarity these days.

    For a writer not to be a reader is pathetic, in my opinion. I also think it's kind of arrogant to want people to read what you write and not to read what others are writing. A person doesn't even know if his/her writing will add something new if they don't read. The most successful authors I know are the first ones to buy a stack of new books to read. It supports the profession, if nothing else.

    Down off my soapbox now. lol

  11. Wonderful words of inspiration! I totally agree - the best writers are the best readers. A writer who doesn't read is like a golfer who never watches golf. You simply have to know your craft!

    I've found, also, that the MORE I write, the better I write.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and inspiration. You may never know, this side of Heaven, how many people you've actually touched and helped.

    May God continue to bless you and all that you touch!

  12. Thanks for the good comments from you folks about reading. You understand the importance of learning from other writers.

    I wanted to comment to both Cathy and Kim.

    Cathy, someone was incredulous that you had time to read. I've had that thrown at me and respond like this:

    "You probably see reading as a leisure-time activity, but it's part of my job description. I have to read to know what other writers are saying; I have to read to learn from writers who are better than I am." (That stops them.)

    Kim, I don't have a purse but I carry a computer bag with at least one book every time I leave home. This morning I drove my wife to the ophthalmologist for what should have been about a 45-minute (max) appointment. It took nearly four hours (I think they forgot her, but they didn't admit it).

    During that time I skim-read two nonfiction books and 28 pages in a novel. When I travel, reading books fill my computer bag. Sometimes I have to leave the computer home.

  13. There was a time that I thought it traitorous (not sure that's a word), as a writer, to purchase a Nook. I received one as a Christmas gift. Oh my! To have that many books at my fingertips is heavenly...and so much easier on my back as my vacation luggage-load has decreased tremendously!

  14. Love this topic. No time to read? Pshaw - turn off the TV :)

    My bookbag is much heavier than an electronic reader, but there is something about the feel of a book in hand that e-readers will never accomplish. I still dream of a home library with a rolling ladder and hand-woven carpets on the floor.

    Sandy, do read to your husband. I do it all the time, especially on road trips; he drives, I read. He used to make fun of me for my bookbag and the multiple books I read at one time, now he is beginning to do the same thing and I just smile each time he has a new book in his hand.

    One of the best things I believe I did for my kids was read aloud to them from a young age. They are grown now, still enjoy reading and being read to. Gathering in the living room for reading time is so much more pleasurable than TV time and with greater benefits.


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