The reason why it is important to read what others have written is because it is detrimental to your writing to be stuck inside your own mind. How much pressure can you put on yourself?
My writing isn’t as good as I want it to be but it is probably better to those who read it. Their writing is better to them than it is to me. Some write undeniable brilliance. Some who have books published don’t write very good books, but somehow, they get published. Does that mean the publishing house isn’t a very good judge of writing, or is it editor preference more than reader appeal? Some stories that win contests go against all requirements listed in writing books. Are those writing books ignored or was the winning story simply the best of all the entries?
I write better when I write in longhand, purple pen to college-ruled paper, because there is less opportunity for me to go back and edit, as editing longhand requires lining out and that results in messy pages. I seem to choose my words with care, edit them in my head, prior to putting them on paper whereas using the computer, I can edit as I go along. That distracts me from my next sentence as I become too focused on the one I am writing. Also, grammar and spelling is pointed out immediately and seeing those green and red squiggly lines are as annoying as a dripping faucet. Not to mention the automatic changing of the misspelled word – how will I ever learn?
What to read? Some say read what you write and others say read what you want. What to write? Some say write what you know and others say write what you don’t know about what you know. There are so many written words about writing words, as there are books on how to clean your home, parent your child, write a resume or be a better person. When will it stop? How many books can you have on cooking? Isn’t rice, rice?
I’m beginning to think it isn’t the words that appeal to the reader as much as it is the person who wrote them. If you identify with the author you tend to read more of their work. Then you read books they recommend and of those authors you like, you read books they recommend, and you find you are reading authors you’ve never heard of, but who can be quite as eloquent as someone known. But you would never know that if you didn’t follow what made sense to you. Words are personal. Stories, even sentences or quotes, give pause when they connect with some hidden emotion that surfaces only after you find that author who has arranged everyday words in a manner that reflect something inside of you.
I keep a notebook in my purse and a tape recorder in my car. I’m fresher in the morning as not so many things have happened to push the beginnings of the day further in my mind, allowing me to forget them. I get up early and write for at least ½ hour to 45 minutes before work. I try to write longer on the weekends but sometimes life doesn’t let me. I work on a story, a thought, a blog entry, or my book outline. Sometimes I get ideas and upon writing them down find I already did, which is a compliment, as I discover I am still on the right road to where I want to end up.
What I can’t seem to do lately is read a book from beginning to end. I read parts of books, the parts that resonate with me and skip over what I think is boring. I would not be a good book club member. I read with sticky notes and pencils and highlighters. I write down sentences and paragraphs and lately have been smart enough to include the book title or author and page number, for future reference. What makes sense at the time may be a head-scratcher later. I don’t know if this means I’m reading like a writer or I’m simply not interested in the other parts, but it all has to matter, otherwise, why bother?
When I read books on writing I get turned off when the writers refer to the same comment other writers have made, or when they recommend the same author. John Gardner wrote more than the dream comment, there are way too many references that compare writing to blood-letting, and I’m not so sure SK is as good a writer as he is a story teller. I don’t want to read what’s been written, I want to read something new.
The conundrum is we all know there is nothing new. It is all the same. The world and people are the same; we all just live in different places and wear different clothes. There is still hot and cold, good and evil, and winners and losers.
The best thing to do is read those authors who make you think. The rest are a waste of your life. Take from something what resonates with you. Not all writing books are good. I’ve probably returned as many as I have bought. Don’t read The Classics unless you can stomach them. If you hate what you read you will not learn from it. Read what you want, what you like, and then allow your story to reflect the emotion that was stirred up from those well-placed words.
That is what makes it yours. That becomes your voice.