Petit Fours » A group blog of authors writing in different genres

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Reading and Writing

I fell in love with the printed word as soon as I learned how to decode it. Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, Carolyn Haywood, Louisa May Alcott and Charles Dickens were childhood friends. In high school, I discovered science fiction and fantasy, Ayn Rand and Hermann Hesse, romance novels and Gone with the Wind. I was wild and free – on the inside, at least. If you knew me back in the day, you might have called me as a bookworm. But I wouldn’t have been offended. I would have simply shrugged my shoulders and moved on to the next chapter.

But college and young adulthood, especially those years when my children were small, left me little time for free reading. More recently, I have spent most of my free moments working on my own novel and reading nonfiction selections on the subject of writing craft. Digging into a juicy novel seemed like a decadent pleasure, right up there with dark chocolate and red wine.

But is it?

In his great book On Writing, author Stephen King says:

The real importance of reading is that it creates an easy and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.

Those are strong words but they ring true. How can I call myself a romance writer if I don’t read books by a variety of authors in that genre? How can I be fresh and original if I don’t know what else is out there?

Since the beginning of the year, my goal has been to finish a book a week. Here are a few tricks I use to carve out extra hours for reading.

1.    Listen to audio books. Download the Audible app and listen to books on your iPhone, Android or mp3 player. That way, you can “read” while driving your car or working out at the gym. With over 85,ooo books available, there is something for everyone. And books in the public domain are free.

2.    Carry a book with you wherever you go. It beats the heck out of reading a two-year-old magazine in the waiting room at the dentist or staring into space while your child is at a music lesson. Tuck a small paperback into your handbag; better yet, invest in a Kindle or Nook and you will have a small library with you wherever you go.

3.    Read a book with a partner. Knowing you will discuss it with someone provides added depth to the reading experience.

4.    Join a book study group. Or start one. I would have never made it through Jane Austen’s novels without the accountability provided by my little book study group. And I started an online book club on my personal blog so that I would finally get around to To Kill A Mockingbird. I am enjoying the community on Goodreads, too. It is fun to watch that virtual collection of finished books grow.

5.    Read what you love. If you truly enjoy what you are reading, you are more likely to return to it and you will probably get through it faster. And you won’t be arrested by the book police if you decide to abandon a book because you simply don’t like it.

Describe your reading habits. What was the last novel you finished? Do you recommend it? Why or why not?

 

Sandra Elzie - May 16, 2011 - 4:06 am

Pam,
Great, insightful and thought-provoking article. Reading? Oh, I’d read ten hours a day if I didn’t write at least 6 to 8 of those hours.

I just finished reading five books in order to judge them for a RWA chapter contest…but I can’t tell you the names. Four of them were fabulous and I really enjoyed them…although one of them was a terrific book until the last five pages when the author went for a dynamic finish that’s literally impossible…still can’t believe the publishing company allowed it…and couldn’t happen in real life. I wanted to drop the book in the bubbling bath water where I was relaxing and reading.

You’re absolutely right about writers needing to read books in their genre. How else can you know what the publishers are buying?

Sia Huff - May 16, 2011 - 7:34 am

Wonderful post, Pam and so true. I went through the stage where I thought it was “smarter” to only read craft books and work on my MS. Somehow I thought I was working harder. But it took all of the joy out of writing for me.
Two great books I can recommend that I’ve read recently are: Cherry Adair’s Undertow. The other is our recent Guest Chef, Leslie Tentler’s, Midnight Caller.

Marilyn Baron - May 16, 2011 - 7:39 am

Pam,

I loved this post. I also enjoyed Stephen King’s book “On Writing.” What resonated most about what you quoted was the comment about reading to learn about writing that is fresh. That is so true. When I read a good book I am astounded and delighted and inspired by the language and the fresh approach the writer employs.

I was one of those kids who read by flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. I take a book with me wherever I go, to the doctor’s office, to the post office, where waiting in line is interminable or to Home Depot to read in the car while my husband goes in for one nut or bolt and comes out an hour later with things he never knew he needed. I always have a book on hand while I’m watching TV.

I’m in a great neighborhood book club and we’re reading “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. We meet this week and we’re inviting the husbands to this meeting so they’re all reading the book. I am pretty familiar with WWII in the European theater but not as familiar with the war in the Pacific, which this book details. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it.

Right now I’m reading Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants which is good. I just finished Jodi Picoult’s “Sing You Home.” On my to-be-read pile is Suzanne Brockmann’s “Breaking the Rules” and Vince Flynn’s “American Assassin.” I couldn’t live without books.

Maxine Davis - May 16, 2011 - 7:55 am

Pam,
That is a great blog! I enjoyed reading it and getting the pointers! I do download books on my IPod. Last one on that, The Scarlet Pimpernel. Yep, knew how it ended, but it is read with a British accent and I had forgotten so much of the book. I am embarrassed to say it has been a long time since I’ve read a book. Going to change that starting today. I have The Black Cat by Martha Grimes. Have a great day.

Linsey Lanier - May 16, 2011 - 8:45 am

Thanks for reminding us that we should read, Pam. King’s advice hits the nail on the head, but I couldn’t do it without audiobooks. I also carry a Robert B Parker book in my purse for emergencies if I get stuck somewhere without the usual work I carry around. I just finished listening to “The Keepsake” by Tess Gerritsen. It was powerfully written. Her characters are terrific.

Christine - May 16, 2011 - 9:19 am

I totally agree with Stephen King: reading is vital to writing. Critiquing and judging pages doesn’t count either. That’s work. But I also made a commitment to read more books last year–because I was only reading about writing or writing. Meh. Now I gorge on my favorite romances. I love my Nook, but I don’t carry it with me often enough. I like the idea of carrying a book in my purse or having one in the car.

Hey, I think I might hit Barnes and Noble today and buy some more romance novels!!

:-)

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 9:36 am

I hear you, Sandy. When I am old, I plan to spend my days sitting on my front porch with a glass of tea by my side, a cat in my lap, and a book in my hands. Frustrating about that last book you were reading; there’s nothing worse than an unsatisfying ending.

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 9:37 am

All work and no play takes the joy out of everything, doesn’t it, Sia? Thanks for the book recommendations. “Midnight Caller” is at the top of my TBR pile. People keep telling me how great it is; I’m gonna have to find out for myself!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 9:39 am

I was one of those kids too, Marilyn – LOL! Your neighborhood book club sounds great. And I am very impressed that the husbands are involved. “Unbroken” sounds like a must-read. I will check out the rest of your recommendations, too.

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 9:41 am

I am glad I have inspired you, Maxine! That’s the only thing about audiobooks; sometimes I don’t like the reader’s voice. But you can’t beat the price! Thank you for your comments.

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 9:43 am

That’s what I love about audiobooks, Linsey; they allow me to “read” during what would otherwise be “wasted” time. I will definitely check out “The Keepsake.” Thank you for stopping by!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 9:44 am

Go for it, Christine! My Kindle lives in my purse; it doesn’t take up much room, and that way I always have it with me. I HATE being stuck without something worthwhile to read; I LOVE my Kindle!

Lindy Chaffin Start - May 16, 2011 - 10:17 am

I owe all of the credit for my recent reading to Pam. She inspired me to read more, twisted my arm so I’d buy that Kindle, and continues to help me forgive myself when I can find time for anything but…anyway, thanks for the helpful post Pam. Now, off to find a bigger purse. -Lindy

katt - May 16, 2011 - 10:34 am

Great Post!… I too spent my childhood in books. Flicka, the Black, Trixie, Nancy… and most of them were under the covers with a flashlight in the wee hours — my poor parents thought there was something wrong with me because even after what they thought was ten hours of sleep it was nearly impossible to wake me up in the mornings…
Now, in order to read and not get into a book that will drag me in and eat up hours I can’t afford to spend on fiction, I reread.
I pull something off the shelf that I’ve already read a time or two and instead of turning pages as fast as I can to find out what happens next, I read slowly and pay attention to the words. I go back and find out what the heck it was that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I notice POV and ly words. I guess you could say that I’m studying reading and writing while thoroughly enjoying a book again.

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 10:57 am

You’re welcome, Lindy. And now I’ve given you an excuse to go purse shopping, too! What are friends for? ;-)

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 10:58 am

I know what you mean, Katt. There’s reading as a reader and reading as a writer. The first is for entertainment, the second is to learn craft, and it’s much easier to do that when you already know how the story ends. Thank you for sharing your insights!

Carol Burnside - May 16, 2011 - 3:36 pm

The last full novel I read was our recent Guest Chef Leslie Tentler’s Midnight Caller. It was terrific.

I confess to not reading as much as I used to before the writing bug struck, but then there are only so many hours in the day. ;)

I do find that I’m pickier about my choices now because I have less time for reading and because I’m harder to please now that I understand more about writing.

Susan - May 16, 2011 - 4:04 pm

I am always reading a book. I read a couple a week at least. I promised myself that I wouldn’t give up my reading to write. I also enjoy books on tapes during trips. The last book I read was by Kat Martin and I’m currently reading a historial series.

Dianna Love - May 16, 2011 - 4:05 pm

I so miss all the reading I used to do, Pam. I try to carve out time in between book projects because I believe strongly about reading as much as possible once you get published. I do have a couple breaks coming up and plan to hit my TBR stack at home.

Tami Brothers - May 16, 2011 - 5:16 pm

LOL! Like Katt, I was one of those under the covers kind of readers. My parents thought I might have mono at one time because I was so tired. I had to fess up at the doctor’s office and my mom was NOT happy about it. Good times…

The last couple of books I read are Hainted Love by Maureen Hardegree (a YA ghost story) and Afterlight by Elle Jasper (a kick-@$$ vampire book). Both were/are awesome. I am just now getting started on Leslie Tentler’s Midnight Caller so I’m excited to see several mentions above.

Thanks for a great post, Pam. I got a LOT of ideas from this one.

Happy reading.

Tami :mrgreen:

JB Hunt - May 16, 2011 - 6:01 pm

A marvelous reminder, Pam. Reading is the fuel!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 7:19 pm

Okay, Carol, now I’m moving “Midnight Caller” to the TOP of my TBR pile. You make a good point about having to be choosy about your reading material when your time is so limited. My problem is there is so much good stuff to choose from. ;-)

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 7:21 pm

Susan, good for you for making time to read at least a couple of books each week. I am struggling to finish one, but I am definitely reading more than I would if I didn’t have that goal. I am not familiar with Kat Martin; thanks for the recommendation!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 7:23 pm

I feel your pain, Dianna! I hope you enjoy your upcoming breaks – I know you deserve them. Thank you so much for stopping by!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 7:27 pm

That’s a funny story, Tami! I was an under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight reader, too; fortunately, I never got caught. ;-) Thanks for your book recommendations; we’ll have to compare notes on “Midnight Caller,” since it seems we’re the last to read it, LOL! Glad I gave you some new ideas. Thanks for your comments!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 7:27 pm

You summed it up nicely, Jessica. Thank you! :-)

Julee Johnson-Tate - May 16, 2011 - 9:39 pm

Pam, you know how my mom used to work at the library in our hometown and both my parents were avid readers, as were my brothers. I go through spurts of reading, like in 2008-2009 I read 50+ books a year, mostly Regency romances. Which is funny, since I’m writing contemporary, but I’d copy down my favorite passages (with attribution) in my notebooks. Part of the Ray Bradbury school of writing, where you copy (literally) favorite stories, seeing what works and why, then go write your own stuff. Appreciate it!

Pam Asberry - May 16, 2011 - 10:18 pm

I used to do the same thing, Julee; I really need to hunt down some of my old notebooks. It would be interesting to see what passages struck me in my pre-novelist days. I’ve never read Ray Bradbury’s book on writing; I should probably add that to my TBR pile. Thanks for stopping by!

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