It makes sense that to write well you have to read well. I read often; I don’t know that I read well. I read to get to the end of books, I read to flag good lines, I read to feel something, so I read fast and I read all-consumingly.

It has come to my attention that I am doing it wrong. I should read to understand my own writing.

As I write, the words and the sentences come to me quickly. The shape of the story doesn’t come as easily. I’ve spent over a year now with my story, but jaw-dropping things will happen frequently throughout my day; my book will call out for enormous, ground-breaking changes to which I will acquiesce with a simple, enlightened, “Oh.”

My book speaks to me in its voice, but not its plot structure. I’m not a chemist. I’m not a calculus major. I am a wordsmith; I smith words. I pile them and rearrange them like this will make a story. Then I try to vocalize the story’s main problem in words (and not written words), and all is lost.

Where is my plot? Can I find it in the books I am currently reading? Can Home by Toni Morrison, and The Outcast by Sadie Jones and Charming Billy by Alice McDermott tell me something about Jillian’s story? Or should I go back to Hemingway. Should I dissect books that have moved me?

I hate it, I hate the structure. But I know it makes the book. I know I read quickly, unstoppably, because I want to get to the end of the story, not the melody of the last line. But how do people do it, the story thing?

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2 thoughts on “Reading to Write

  1. Reading becomes a source of study when you’re a writer; you do it unconsciously. You start looking for good things to implement into your work and you spot potential pitfalls. Learning from others is part of the craft.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Joe. I agree/hope the learning is subconscious. Do you find you read only the genre of books that you write? I find I gain a lot from reading outside of my genre too. I suppose it helps me see writing in a new light, with different aspects of writing highlighted. For example, I don’t write fantasy, but reading it does help me integrate some of the beautiful things fantasy books do into my writing. But as you say, this is most likely a subconscious exercise.

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