READ. You'll crack formula to success

by Ksenia Anske

Photo by Joel Robison

So I'm sitting here in this amazing afterglow from reading Stephen King's SONG OF SUSANNAH, Book 6 of The Dark Tower series, thinking how can I communicate this feeling to the world, to explain how reading makes me a better writer. Not in the way of reading and learning from it, but in a way of connecting with the mind of another writer, seeing how he does it, and realizing that I can do the same. We all can do. Except at the very beginning we don't know it, don't believe in it, and so sometimes never dare to finish it, because we think there must be some success formula and because we don't know it yet, so we think our stuff is pure shit. We give up, and that's that. But the ecstasy from having understood, from having come close to understanding another writer's process, is indescribable. It's a feeling. There is no formula. If there was one, everyone would study it in school and then crank out best-sellers, like, 10 a pop, and scoop up millions of dollars. Yet we all know it doesn't work that way. Then how does it work? I'm not sure I know the answer, but the more I read, the more I get this feeling that perhaps I have caught it by the tail. Here is what I think.

We read about what's missing from our lives. There are books that we only read when we are missing something specifically, like hot BDSM sex (in case of 50 Shades of Grey), or a hot ideal boyfriend (in case of Twilight), or a magical quest against Death and all things school (Harry Potter). You get the idea. Notice, though, how different these books are. For example, if you happen to have hot BDSM sex, or you happen to have a hot ideal boyfriend in real life, you probably won't pick up Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey, simply because you have enough of it for real and don't need to fantasize about it. Hence, it explains the demographic of people who rave about the series. Also, at certain times in our lives, we go through different phases, and we might be needing a book badly when 5 years from now it wouldn't fit out life at all. Case in point, reading Twilight made me start thinking about divorce and prompted me start thinking about writing Siren Suicides. I'm not kidding, I was totally into it, swooning over every page. That was 8 years ago. Yeah, now laugh all you want. Notice, also, how Harry Potter is completely different. We're all afraid of death at any age, and we all remember school pains, at any age, so the demographic is much larger. See the pattern?

We read books that speak our language. Like everyone else, and curious because it's so hot right now, I picked up a copy of Warm Bodies and read it, partly because I really liked Isaac's blog and his writing style, partly because I liked the story premise and wanted to be done with the book before the movie came out. And, I loved the book in places, but in other places, I was mad at it and wanted to put it down. Not because there is anything wrong with it, no, it's an awesome story, beautiful, with great sense of humor and zombie poetry-like prose. But it didn't speak to me, it was not my language of life. Mine is much darker, much twistier, simply because of my background and my personal history, which is not pretty (oh, well, it made me who I am). The book felt lightweight to me, yet it also puzzled me why I didn't like it as much as others did. It outright bothered me, especially because I really wanted to meet and connect with Isaac (he's here in Seattle too), and I think with my 3 star review I outright puzzled him as to why I wanted to meet. But I wanted to talk about exactly this, about the language and how it differs. The reason why you as a writer need to read as much as you can is because you will see where you fit. You need to trust yourself and be yourself, then you will find readers whose language you speak. But if you don't, if you try to fit a genre or a style, you're doomed.

We read books because we know the author. This is my pet peeve, of course, because I'm such a social media freak. And I'm a social media freak because the publishing game has changed. The writer no longer has to rely on the publishing houses to market the book, the writer can connect directly with readers, and I LOVE doing it. I mean, if not for folks with whom I connected, my Draft 5 wouldn't have gotten better (I had 50 Beta Readers dish in on Draft 4!). Anyway, I'm straying from the topic here... My point is, we read books by authors whom we feel we know, like old friends. Why? Because we're social animals and it's how we're wired. We can't be alone, we love to connect, but in order for us to connect, we have to know the other party. And how, pray tell, would we do that? Well, by reading a book. But why would we pick up a book? Because a friend told us. But how would a friend tell us? Because a friend somehow stumbled upon this book and something made her or him pick it up. Here is the deal, that SOMETHING will only be there if you as a writer know who you are and are not afraid to write from your heart. Because then you're apt to finding that one reader who loves it. From the hands of that one reader, 10 more friend will find out, and so on, and so on. This is how I read Warm Bodies, because I knew enough about the author that I felt like I wanted to finish it. And how do you know who you are as a writer? Well, we've come full circle.

READ. Read a lot. That's all there is to it.

I feel like perhaps I failed to communicate what it is I wanted to communicate. Mainly because I have this deep feeling that threatens to burst me from inside out yet I can't quite grasp it. I'm trying. I swear I'll blog more as I understand this better. For now, I can tell you this, every time I read a book, I have a little epiphany. And every time I apply that little epiphany to my writing, it makes me feel like my writing isn't actually complete and utter shit. It feels like it has a chance.

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