This article was written by Susan Sundwall.
Now that I’ve signed a book contract and have let friends, family, strangers and my dentist know about it, I’m getting requests. Others are asking me to look at their writing. I love it. Except, on occasion, when the subject of reading comes up and I’m left gaping. It goes something like this.
“Of course, I’d be happy to read your story. It’s great getting to know other writers.”
“Thank you. It would mean so much to get a real writer’s opinion.”
“Who are some of your favorite authors; who do you read?” I always ask. I like to know a little of what this eager new writer reads so I can critique with some understanding of what has influenced his or her style and voice.
“Well, I don’t read that much. I did have to slog through ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in high school, though. Boy, that Tennessee guy sure used a lot of words, didn’t he? Oh, and I did some reading in college. Mostly comic books.”
It throws me for a loop every time I get a response like this. I always hope my face doesn’t give me away while inside I’m screaming, “You don’t what! What are you thinking?” I’m tempted, and sometimes give in to telling them of the advise I got when I first began writing. Like so many, I chose writing for children thinking that would be the easier road. The advise I heard in many quarters was this . . . read at least one thousand children’s books before you put pen to paper. I thought then and think now that it’s a staggering number and I didn’t go crazy maxing out my Visa at the bookstore buying up every Junie B. Jones and Winnie the Pooh book in stock. But merely hearing that advise made me realize how far I had yet to go.
Next you might expect me to reveal how awful the stories are from those non-readers. Nope. That’s not necessarily the case. Most people who really want to write already have a strong sense of story. Something inside is busting to get out. What a terrific starting point. The next step is to actually get it down on paper. It takes some doing to progress that far and I applaud the effort. But then comes the fly in the ointment. I call it ‘the idea.’
The idea of writing has universal appeal. In every place you can imagine the story teller is sought after and revered. Just look at the industries built around the idea. Movies, televison, video games, Broadway plays and musicals, and once upon a time, radio. We are stimulated day and night with the idea these venues present and they are taken in primarily with the senses. None of them requires much in the way of reading. But in some souls the stimulation goes beyond watching or listening. It goes to the powerful desire to do something similar.“I have this great story . . . “ it begins.
Of course in these venues the idea has come to fruition through hard work, dissapointment, harsh criticism, more disappontment, perseverance, and then . . . then . . . triumph. Somebody wrote, re-wrote, re-wrote and eventually triumphed with their movie or television script, book, or play and each somebody was a reader. A monster reader, I’ll wager. And that’s what some new writers fail to understand. They’ve got a story, they’ve written it down but no one gets to home plate by skipping first base – reading.
Reading gives us the basics. On some subliminal level it teaches about word flow, effective use of simile, pacing, story arc, character development, powerful inner dialog, word choice and syntax, and so much more. Then, by an oddly ordained process we barely understand it carries over into the writing we call our own. Who in the world would not do this?
When writers ask me to critique I know they’ve been infected by the idea. I know how that feels and it pulls me towards them. And even though I’m often told that they don’t read-much- I smile when asked to ‘take a look and tell me what you think’ and I read this trusting person’s work. I tell them to take my comments with a grain of salt; I’m just an ordinary person. Really. I tell them where I think they’ve done well and what needs a little work. I put edits in red, offer words of encouragment and tell them where they might find markets and an audience. But most of all I tell them to go and read.
You have a story to tell. Wonderful. You’ve come to the point of wanting someone to read it. Great. But if you’re serious about this writing thing please find works in your genre and read them – lots of them. Go back and stand on first base for a while. It will benefit your own writing immeasurably.
So, what is your genre and how many books in that genre have you read? Go ahead – count ‘em up, I’d love to know!
Susan writes freelance, is an award winning poet, and new mystery writer. Her book, The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery, will be available on November 1st, 2012. She’s also managed to write and sell some stories for children, but that was not an easy road! Visit her blog at www.susansundwall.blogspot.com to see what else she’s up to. She loves your comments.
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