This is tip #7 in Tom Corson-Knowles’s list of 15 success habits of professional writers and authors. I love this one! I read a lot. I’m an editor, so I read for work. I read for pleasure, too. I read a wide variety – in and out of my genre.
Successful Authors Read Classics
They read classical literature, to improve their writing. Reading classics builds your vocabulary, as people didn’t used to dumb-down their writing to a fifth-grade level, which is what most popular books and newspapers are written at now. There are many benefits to reading classical literature, but the main one, I think, from an author’s perspective, is that there are many references to the classics in books, television and film. How many times have you read a book or seen a movie and someone finds himself in a strange place and says, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Maybe the hero had started in Chicago? And if you didn’t know anything about The Wizard of Oz and the girl Dorothy, who originally said that line when she was lost in the land of Oz, you would wonder what the hero was talking about!
It is a common cliché to say you are what you eat. But I’d go one step further and say, you write what you read. If you only read comtemporary fiction, your stories will be contemporary fiction. They are not likely to ever become classics. If you read classics, then your writing will improve, and one day, your grandchildren may have to read one of your books for their Freshman English class.
Successful Authors Read Popular Books in their Genre
This is obvious. You want to read what your fans are reading. You want to read your competition. Not so you can pirate on their works, but so you can more fully understand the genre and what your readers’ expectations are. If you don’t enjoy reading books in your genre, then you are definitely writing in the wrong genre. Read the reviews your fans leave for your competitors. Find out what they liked about the book, but also what they don’t like. You can learn what not to do in your next novel.
Successful Authors Read What Interests Them
It’s important to read a wide variety of topics. You want to keep learning and growing. The more you learn, the more interesting your books become. If you write contemporary westerns, then you’d better plan a vacation to a working dude ranch! You need to learn all you can about contemporary cowboys, ranches, horses, tools, equipment, and even the dialect unique to the area. If you don’t, your books will feel flat. The more you learn about real men and women living on real working ranches, the more vibrant your books will become.
If you write science fiction, then you need to read journals and magazines that cover new discoveries in the scientific world. Although you have free license to make up anything to fit your book, the more plausable you are, the more real your world becomes. The Martian by Andy Weir is so full of facts and details – and it still holds the #1 position in four categories at Amazon.com. His book reads like an astronout’s primer on survival, jam-packed with technical detail.
If you write more towards the fantasy realm, you can still improve your worlds with factual reading. For example, if you want to have dragons on your world, then maybe a solid understanding of dinosaurs will help you create believable dragons. If you want your heroine to work in the fashion and design industry, then you’d better know more about fashion and design than the average person.
Many authors give their main characters the same occupation over and over. I can’t even count the number of heroines who work as authors! That’s an easy job to give, because we don’t have to do any research! But if all our heroines are authors, then we are severely limiting the plot of our books. What if your hero is a rancher, and raises beef. Then, to increase the tension and drama in your book, wouldn’t it be better if your heroine worked for P.E.T.A., instead of Glamour Magazine?
Successful Authors Make Time to Read
We all have the same number of hours in our day, yet so many people tell me they “don’t have time.” We make time for what’s important. If you don’t have time to read, then maybe you are too busy doing things that are not important to developing your writing career. Take stock of what you spend your time doing for one full week. If the week isn’t “typical,” then do it for two weeks. Tally up how much time you spend sleeping, eating, writing on your book, playing on the computer, watching television, chatting on the phone, or doing nothing in particular. You might be surprised just how much time you fritter away. I know I was.
I watch television, because it’s something my family does. We do it together. It’s a great way to unwind. But I have to limit how much time I spend watching it. It is pretty much time wasted. It doesn’t really build my writing career, increase my knowledge, improve my health, or have any positive benefits. So I use it as a reward. If I get this much done, then I can watch a one-hour show, which I recorded so I can watch it in 42 minutes minus the commercials.
I like to read at bedtime. It’s always been my habit since I was a little girl, and my mother would read aloud to my sisters and me before tucking us in. Now I read mostly kindle books – which has its ups and downs. Kindle hurts when you fall asleep while reading and it falls on your face! Also, if I finish a really great book and I don’t want to stop, I can buy the next volume in the series and keep reading late into the night. Sometimes I just read a few paragraphs. Sometimes I read several chapters.
Recently, though, I’ve started reading first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee. This lets me wake up slowly, and have a very pleasant start to my day. Then I can get dressed and walk the dogs before I head into my home office.
So quickly make a list of books you’ve always wanted to read, feel you should read, or topics you want to know more about. If you can’t come up with at least a dozen titles, then visit Goodreads and look for ideas there. Pick something classic, something in your genre, a how-to book, and maybe a book on personal relationships. Find the time to read, and then do it. While you cuddle up with a great book, you can mentally pat yourself on your back, because you are not wasting time. You are investing in yourself.
Photo Credits: Marin at freedigitalphotos.net