There is more to writing than writing. There’s directed reading.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

I see a lot of focus on quantity/quality, tips, and tricks, but that’s not neccesarily the best way to learn about writing

I have been learning how to write for decades. I started years before I got serious and became a professional. And there is a major factor missing in many of the well-meaning articles published here and elsewhere about writing and becoming a writer. That factor is reading.

Reading, as a writer

Even so-called serious writers have their guilty pleasure reading. A Booker-nominated novelist may have a love for murder mysteries or thrillers. A renowned historian may like romance novels. This is reading for pleasure. Reading as a writer is a different thing.

Ask Stephen King (and everyone else)

There are a lot of references to Stephen King’s On Writing as a primer, for very good reasons. And I concur that it is a very good guide (and a great memoir, which it doesn’t get enough credit for). But nearly all references seem to focus on his advice on technique and perseverance, when in fact this is only half of his advice. The other half is to read voraciously and widely. In fact, King includes a reading list of several hundred books at the end of On Writing (his focus is on long form fiction but you could assemble a similar list for other writing genres). If you go out and search for interviews with the writers you admire, when they talk about process they inevitably talk about reading, with equal weight. They know their peers and they respect the great ones, in part because they have read them first for pleasure or education and then as writers.

Writers on writing

Writers love to write about writing. It’s always been that way, it’s in our nature. Usually we are writing about our own experiences with it because we learn from writing it out. I know, I do it and publish some of it here. When I first got into my ‘real’ first novel, I was mystified by certain things about the process which had a mysterious quality to them. I was not a plotter, I was letting the story carry me along with each day’s word allotment (800–900). As a result characters began doing unexpected things and I wondered if this was normal. So, I used my directed reading habits to find out. I looked for process interviews with writers I admired. Two specifically were Michael Ondaatje and Haruki Murakami.* I found interviews online. In both cases they said that their most well-known books started with little more than a mental image. In the case of Ondaatje’s masterpiece The English Patient, he simply had an image of a nurse and a bandaged burn patient in a villa in Italy, as World War Two wound down. As any reader of the book or the excellent film adaptation knows, this is an intricately plotted story with many moving parts. Murakami said much the same thinga.

Written by

Novelist, Tech Marketing Writer, Growth Consultant. I have been a professional writer for over 20 years- 8 non-fiction books and 1 novel, many articles, etc.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store