It’s coming up to that special time of the year all writers love: Bookmas. Yes, if you’re anything like me then the Christmas holidays are a book bonanza, either because you receive books as presents or – my particular favourite – you receive gift tokens so you can buy the books you’ve been wanting to read all year.
But for writers, reading isn’t just a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves, it’s also an ideal opportunity to brush up on your craft, so here are my top reading tips for authors.
1 Read often
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard writers say they don’t have time to read. I just don’t understand the sentiment. As Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Reading regularly is one of the best ways to improve your craft. You subconsciously take in the structure, pacing and composition of a well written story. I read every night before I go to sleep and have done for nearly 40 years. There are some nights where I read a page before I wake myself with my book – or kindle – falling on my face, other nights I’ll read so late I’m tired the next day. No matter how tired I am, I always make time to read.
2 Read your genre
If you write in a particular genre it’s important you understand the particular quirks an traditions of the genre. I’ve said before I never set out to write science fiction, it was just the story and ideas I wanted to explore fit the genre, but I love science fiction and have bookshelves full of my favourite science fiction author’s work.
3 Read outside of your genre
That doesn’t mean to say you should read exclusively from within your genre. While my tastes will always lean heavily toward speculative fiction, I also love traditional thrillers, mysteries, political thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction and so on and so on. There are many excellent writers out there in all genres and with ebooks you now have the opportunity to sample a wide spectrum of genres for relatively little cost. Since starting to Pay it Forward to the writing community, I’ve enjoyed and learnt so much from reading books in genres I would never normally have tried. If you want to broaden your writing skills, broaden your reading.
4 Make notes of what works well
I read for enjoyment. I’m not analytical when I read because I like to be swept away into the world an author creates which I find difficult if I’m continually analysing the prose to find out how the author world their magic. That said, there are times when I’m reading that I can’t help but be dazzled by a well written phrase, a cleverly worked plot point or a scintillating piece of dialogue, so I always have a notepad beside my bed so I can note these down for future reference.
5 Make notes of what doesn’t work and why
On the other hand, there are also times where something doesn’t work or leaves me feeling a little let down. I like to look at why that is, try to figure out the underlying cause and identify what I would have done differently in the same situation.
6 Use what you’re reading to inspire your writing
Reading somebody else’s book can spark inspiration you may never otherwise have had. Many books have been inspired by others books, whether as an homage to the original or as a response. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was famously inspired by The Coral Island, Golding clearly believing that a group of children shipwrecked on an island wouldn’t all work together happily.
My first book, Second Chance, was in part inspired by a book by Peter F. Hamilton, an author of whom I’m a big fan. In it, a character sacrifices themselves only to come back later on after being cloned. I remember thinking at the time, “but it’s not the same person, it’s a copy.” It annoyed me so much I decided to work out how you could clone people and it still end up being the same person, and Second Chance was born.
7 But don’t plagiarise
Most writers would be delighted to find their work inspired something you’ve written. No writers enjoy seeing their work copied. There’s a big difference between taking a story and moving it to a new and unique setting, to writing the same story but changing the name and facial features of the lead characters. Don’t go there.
8 Write a review
Any author will tell you how much they appreciate a review, but as a writer yourself, writing a review helps to crystallise your thoughts on what you appreciated about the book and where it could be improved, which in turn allows you to identify how to improve your own writing.
9 Contact author to say how much you liked their book
If you really enjoyed a book, contact the author. Many authors are now on social media, either Twitter, Facebook or blogging like myself, and I don’t know of a single author who isn’t thrilled to receive a note from somebody who enjoyed their book. I’ve done this a number of times myself and have formed great friendships with other writers, building a mutual support group which in turn has helped develop my writing.
This will be my last post before Christmas, so I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and look forward to catching up with you all in the New Year.
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