Why Reading Matters

It is easy to get overwhelmed when writing a big project. Every free second not spent frantically scribbling nonsense onto the page seems like wasted time. This is especially true for me because I reignited my writing during Nanowrimo. I somehow wrote over 50,000 words in thirty days. I still feel guilty three months later on the nights I don’t work on my new WIP. But as humans, if we concentrate too long on something, we lose passion and motivation.  At least, I hope everyone is like me. The best way to work is by breaking up long chunks of time with something else for our brain to concentrate on.  The way I keep my sanity is by reading. Well, that doesn’t always keep me sane, I often compare myself to the authors and end up more crazy that when I started. But that is a completely different basket of worms there.

If I could, I would live in the library. Just push together some of the comfy chairs near the mystery section, bring a blanket from my fuzzy blanket collection and I would be good to go! I read constantly, and have library receipts a mile long. I am shy, painfully so. Most people think invisibility would be a cool superpower, but I have perfected that. As a child, the easiest way to escape whenever I felt awkward or scared was to read. I carried a book with me everywhere. I was one of those kids that got in trouble for reading in school. One year during standardized testing they told us we could read after we finished the tests. So obviously I worked through the booklets quickly without double checking my work in order to have more time to enjoy my quiet time. I will never forget my mom getting mad at me for my ISTEP score being less above average then how I normally performed.

I became the characters. I learned loyalty from Samwise Gamgee. Confidence from Sherlock Holmes. A sense of justice and adventure from Trixie Belden. Without my literary friends, my life would have been much more lonely. My deepest hope for my writing is that it impacts someone, somewhere. Books are always there when you need them, and that is why I still read like a dehydrated camel drinks water.

Currently, I am reading The Murder House, by James Patterson. It checks every category that I look for in books. Tough female character, check. Murder, Triple check so far. And finally a check for adventure. While I am not very far into the novel, I have read about three murders, a few arguments, and an arrest. I recommend it to anyone at this point. His action-packed novels keep me engaged and entertained from start to finish, which is what I aim for in my personal writing. No matter how many books I have in my queue, as soon as I see James Patterson (and assorted ghost writers) has a new book out, I can’t stop myself from buying it. But why? What can I learn from his methods?

Since I have started writing again, I find myself constantly comparing myself to what I am reading. I notice more that earlier I would just gloss over. For example, my action started farther into my manuscript than books I like to read, so I cut large sections to move the action forward.  I notice the jumpy paragraphs in his writing that I feel need transitions, are just accepted. I realize what details readers pick up on, and that they will most likely glance over a line that I am struggling so hard to perfect without remembering it.  While at times, this comparison makes me feel hopeless and makes me want to burn my notebooks while dancing around the fire, it is helping me grow. Showing me how to insert physical descriptions without cringing in awkwardness. Illustrating how to describe action sequences clearly. How to make the story from a character’s eyes. One of my favorite parts of his stories is his point of view, but I will discuss my struggle with POV in length at another time. Probably tomorrow.

While I am here, I want to make it very clear how dangerous comparisons can be if not done correctly. It would be easy to look at a finished, published novel and ruin the pages with tears from my failed dream. But we have to remember, what we have, is a first draft. It is rough around the edges (literally considering my notebooks), it has hilarious lines that make no sense. My personal favorite that I found this week is, “Her eyes did not look normal, though. She seemed to stare through them.” What was I thinking?

But my rough draft has some amazing ideas! Cool technology and action scenes, interesting dialogue. I can’t allow myself to feel hopeless because my first draft is not publishable. I mean, come on, we all know that even the greats edit their work, so why compare ourselves to the finished product? Read to learn, but do not expect perfection. And if you are insecure about your writing like I am, please, please, do not let fear or embarrassment keep you from reading and writing. The only way to get better is through practice. Multiple drafts is the only way to write, and no matter how great the story is, it can always be improved.

If you want to write a book with mass appeal, then there is no better teacher than James Patterson. The man can write anything from adult to YA, adventure to sci-fi. While I understand he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, there is a lot to learn from his nonstop style. I try to pick up on all I can while enjoying an amazing story. There is no way to lose!

What author have you tried to emulate in your writing? What makes them so interesting?

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3 thoughts on “Why Reading Matters”

  1. I have read several of Patterson’s books myself. I enjoy his style as well. My favorite author is Stephen King. I have several of his books at home and will go back and read them again and again. I would love to be able to develop characters as well as these two, but that is probably stretching things a bit.
    Like you, I have enjoyed reading from an early age. I was always the first to finish reading in school, much to the consternation of both my classmates and some teachers. One teacher, in a fit of disbelief, questioned me in front of the class on the material. I think she regretted this action, because several of my friends snickered as I answered her queries with ease and, at the end, with a little sarcasm. She did not like me much after this, which was fine with me as I did not appreciate her teaching style.
    Keep reading, and keep writing. Wishing you swift success in the near future.

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    1. My husband loves Stephen King as well! I am trying to get into reading his stuff if you have any good suggestions. Currently, I am working on 11/23/63 and am really enjoying it. But I love history and what ifs, so it is right up my alley!

      My teachers were the same way! it is always funny to watch them squirm when they think they have you. They say they want to raise good readers then try to embarrass kids who really enjoy it. Just crazy!

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      1. My first King book was “The Stand”. I would recommend the “Dark Tower” series. Sadly, I have not read all of them yet. I plan on rectifying this in the near future.

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