Friday, November 6, 2009

Reading is a Must

By Heather Justesen

If I said that writers need to read, you might nod and think I mean that internally we have to read--it's part of our makeup. That would be true for most every writer I know, but that's not what I mean.

The fact is, as in any profession, writers need to keep up with what's going on in their business. That means I need to be aware of what other writers in my genre are producing, what the trend is. Reading is also necessary as part of the process of learning to write. When I read a book, I often study the setting, characters, plots and other aspects of the writing. I pay attention to beautiful prose (because that is really not my strong point) and things that don't work for me in the story.

I may be totally caught up in the book, but after writing for so many years, a part of my brain is always scrutinizing the text, trying to figure out why I enjoy the book. Is it great characters? A skillfully woven plot? Is there just enough chemistry between the man and woman to keep me wondering how and when they are going to get past their obstacles? Is the mystery getting more complex and do I keep asking myself who was responsible for the murder?

It's important for me to focus on these aspects as I read because they help me become a better writer. After I had one of my manuscripts edited by a published writer for the first time, I realized that I had trouble knowing how and where to add descriptions. I tended to add them in unecessary places, or I made them too passive (or I left them out entirely). On the recommendation of another friend, I spent untold hours over the next several months reading everything written by a specific author that I could get my hands on. I probably read close to forty or fifty of her books in under three months (they were mostly pretty short and she's obviously been writing for quite some time) and when I started writing again the descriptions came much easier to me--because I had studied how to do it.

Reading is an important part of honing my craft, but I sometimes struggle to find time to sit down with a book because I have so many other things to do (writing is only one of them). Still, when I do pick up a book, slide back into a hot bubble bath, or wrap myself up in blankets in bed, I find my frustrations trickle away, my worries flee, and when I finish, I'm far more ready to get back to work on my next book.

What have you read lately?

PS I'll be signing with some other great authors at the Sandy, Utah Barnes & Noble Saturday from 2-4. Stop in and enter to win one of our prizes!


Rebecca Irvine said...

It is hard for me not to spend too much time reading. And I even love re-reading and comparing texts. Doing so helps me be a better writer myself.

I wish you were having a signing near me in Arizona.

Heather Justesen said...

Maybe someday I'll be able to make the trip south. I'd love to meet you in person!