On Writing

Read … read everything

It is very common belief that to become a better writer, you need to read great pieces of work. While I’m not arguing against that point (I do think it’s important), something I notice quite a lot is people overlooking the importance of reading the “not so great” work that’s out there.

Reading everything, the good and the bad, is so incredibly important for writers to improve their skill. It is, of course, much more enjoyable as a reader to lose yourself in the world of a good book. But, I implore you, walk away from the best sellers table once in a while. Walk away from the staff recommendations in the book store. Stop only reading the books that got a 5 star rating on goodreads. Pick something different. Pick something that is perhaps poorly constructed. It will be a pain to read, but I believe it is important for a writer to occasionally look at these pieces of work. Here’s why I say this.

#1 – You learn what you don’t like.
This point is probably applicable for any piece of work, but maybe more so in the single star rated books. Ask yourself, why is this book bad? Why did it only get a 1 star rating? Thinking in terms of the content, was the story weak or cliche? Were the characters flat and 2 dimensional? Did the author spend a ridiculous time using superfluous descriptions that seemed to never end? Take a moment to go back to school or university and analyse it. You don’t have to write an essay, but make a few points on how you think the author could have improved the content. This is an excellent way to get yourself thinking about what you definitely do not want to do in your own work, and how you might improve. I have a personal example of this. A while ago, I wrote a post about what makes an excellent fight scene (you can read about it here).  The reason this article came about is because I had just finished reading a book where the action scenes were dry and boring. I wrote down what I didn’t like about them (a habit I find really useful) and I compared them with my own writing. I was not at all surprised to find that I had committed the very writing crimes I had just pointed out. So, list and article in hand, I rewrote them and drastically improved my quality of writing!

#2 – You learn the importance of grammar and structure
Have you ever  wanted to slam a book closed and never open it again because the grammar and punctuation was THAT bad? I have … many times! Having a book full of bad grammar is very difficult to read. Why? Because it distracts the reader from the story. When you’re reading these books, have a look at what it is that specifically interrupts the reader. Is it the general structure and paragraphs? The dialogue punctuation (or lack thereof)? The spelling? is it just inconsistent? Have a look, make a list, research the correct way (if you’re unclear), and check your own work to make sure you haven’t done the same thing. Learn from other people’s mistakes.

#3 – You learn what to avoid
Melodrama, cliches, adverbs, words copied and pasted from the thesaurus … all things to avoid! By reading low rated books, you will get to see these issues in action and will be able to get a better understanding of why they should be avoided. Does the melodrama get tiring? Can you see the cliche plot twist coming from the very beginning of the book? Do the adverbs regularly appear in the work, accomplishing nothing, but simply creates a long and drawn out sentence almost like this one? Has the author used the right words in the context? Or have they right clicked and picked the first synonym available? That one is my absolute pet peeve! I hate it so much that I think I will write an article about it (watch this space for a link).
Reading lower quality work allows you to experience first-hand why these things are so annoying, and encourage you to avoid them in your own work.

These are just 3 of the reasons why it can be beneficial to skip the bestsellers and opt for the less highly regarded books. Of course, don’t JUST read bad books. You’d go nuts if you did! Find a balance between reading both the highly esteemed, and the less well regarded pieces of work. This way, you can experience both what TO DO, and what NOT TO DO.

So, bearing all that in mind,
Happy writing!

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