If you're serious about writing, get serious about reading. I'm talking to myself here, by the way, and it's not me who said it, it was Stephen King in his book On Writing. So I did. I took it seriously. Because I'm serious about writing. Because some amazing things happened ever since I allowed myself to start reading again. By reading, I mean, reading fiction, novels, the types of books that give me goose bumps and keep me awake at night. And, you know what? It works. Here is how reading helps me be a better writer.
I AM good enough! (an epiphany some 30 years later). This happened a few days ago while I was reading Ender's Game. An epiphany struck me with a kick in the head, straight from the sky, while I was waiting for the pedestrian light to change, reading. My knees went weak and when the light went green, I couldn't take a step. It was all the books fault. I didn't know whether to cry or to hurl it into traffic for having wrecked my world so easily. Turns out, I was a gifted child, but was told otherwise by parents and teachers. So I grew up thinking I'm never good enough, never was, never will be. I suddenly understood why I never believed I could write, and why I was writing in the first place. Because I was bored. Conversations got boring pretty quickly, and I amused myself in school by inventing code languages, passing around notes, and then watching the boys get in trouble. Because of course they did it, not a sweet little girl at the front table, the one that always got 'A's. This epiphany allowed me to think, YES, I am good enough, and I will get even better.
Patterns. I pick up patterns when I read. Patterns in dialogue, patterns in character development, patterns in raising the stakes, etc, etc. After reading many books, I noticed that all of them overlap like layers of tracing paper, and suddenly it's there. It's so clear, I want to scream. Because it feels like I've discovered a new dinosaur species. And I did, I guess, considering the fact that story telling has been around as long as the spoken language. The more I read, the more patterns I see, and then I can apply them to my own writing.
20 different ways to say the same thing. Let's face it, all stories are the same. Once upon a time there was a... blah, and every day... blah, until one day... blah, and then... blah, and then... blah, and finally... BLAH! What blows me away is how different authors manage to say the same darn thing in so many different ways. I picture something like this in my head - videotape a flock of birds taking off, then show it to 20 writers and ask them to write a quick flash piece about it. That would be fascinating to do, wouldn't it? To collect those pieces later and to read them. Maybe this will inspire me to teach one day. For now, it helps my imagination.
Finding my style. Like any beginning writer, I struggle to find my own style. I tend to read something genius, fall in love with it, and then attempt to copy it, to see if I can do the same. My 1st draft was littered with those 'striving to be something else' passages. The more I read, the more I see how my own style could fit into this multitude. Not just that. The more I read, the more I see that I DO have a style, I'm just ashamed to admit it, afraid to use it - because I'm still a beginner, I'm still not sure.
Because it's fun! In the end, reading great fiction is just fun. Wouldn't you agree? I've posted my absolute favorites to the right of my blog, a bit down, in a Goodreads widget. What are yours? Feel free to comment with recommendations.