Forget how Gollum pronounced the one ring to rule them all “my precious.” In today’s world, something that is very precious to all of us is those minutes of free time, the ones where work obligations, family commitments, or other duties aren’t crying out to be fulfilled. What’s more is there are a thousand and one options for those few minutes: Netflix or other television programming, crafts like knitting or crocheting, puzzles for those who like piecing together a challenge. Yet reading opens worlds to people, fantasy worlds like Middle Earth and Hogwarts, worlds of life in the past like L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander’s Scotland, and contemporary places like the made-up Mitford or Stephanie Plum’s Trenton. And for writers, reading is one of the most important activities to improve your craft.
Read broadly and keep your ear out for new authors. Not only is there a genre for everyone, but there is a different genre for everyone to explore. Although I gravitate toward cozy mysteries and romance, I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Classics, biographies, and modern literary fiction occupy space on my to-be-read pile and my keeper bookshelf. I always keep my ear out for new authors that should be on that list. Everywhere I turn lately I’m hearing great things about Helen Huong’s The Kiss Quotient as well as Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Those are two books I’ll definitely look for in the near future. Reading broadly can expose a writer to different outlooks and make you aware of the differences between different styles of writing.
Read often. I always have my Kindle with me. If I’m early for a doctor’s appointment, I whip out my Kindle and read. When I’m at the grocery store and I can’t use the self-checkout, I whip out my Kindle and read. I’m always reading one hard copy of a book (something in paper, whether a hardback or paperback) as well as something on my Kindle.
Read with a careful eye. Look carefully at the writing style and voice of authors you admire. Do they use verbs like took or got or walked? Since I have the paper copy of the book I’m reading right next to me, I opened Stirring Up Strife by Jennifer Stanley to the middle. Verbs like beamed and grabbed and loitered jumped out at me. As a writer, I look for emotional arcs in the protagonist’s journey. In the case of Stirring Up Strife, the main character’s attempt to kick the bad habit of smoking goes along with her attempt to kick out the bad memories of her broken relationship as she becomes involved in a murder investigation (this is a cozy mystery).
And I’m going to go one step further. Those books you want to put down, the ones that don’t grab your attention by page five (and let me add I’m on page 268 of Stirring Up Strife, which I’m enjoying), read them to figure out what you don’t like. If you don’t like the heroine, why? If a plot device doesn’t appeal to you, why?
In my opinion, reading often is one of the best gifts a writer can give herself. What are you reading? Let me know. I’m always on the lookout for a good book.