Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reading is part of writing

This is the year I decided to take my writing seriously and I went kinda crazy with it. Exhibit A: I attended my 3rd conference for the year this weekend. (Actually just Friday because I got sick, but that's another story.) Slice Magazine launched its first conference this year in Brooklyn, and I was one of the lucky early adopters. I feel extremely fortunate that I was at least able to be there for the one day because I got to see a dear friend of mine, and I met several agents and writers/faculty who love books. I think they love books even more than I do; that's kind of creepy when you think about it. Unfortunately, I also met a lot of people who write and don't read very much. This is a recurring theme with a lot of writers I meet, and it's concerning because the bottom line is: if you expect someone else to read your books, you need to read what's out there.

Why is it so important to read what's out there?

  • You know how you feel about your novel? Agents feel the same way about the novels they represent. They love those books the way parents love children. If you don't even know the titles of books they represent and you haven't read any of them, it doesn't look good for you.
  • Every speaker and writing teacher says read widely in your genre. If you're still unsure about what your genre is, read as widely as possible until you figure it out. Yes, I know some people claim "experimental literature" is a real thing. Here's a question for you: if your doctor asked you to try an experimental treatment for something would that really make you happy? Maybe some people are into that, but when I hear the word "experimental" phrases like "it doesn't work yet" or "not ready for prime time" come to mind.
  • Don't rely on the classics. It's safe to like a book that has been vetted by thousands of readers over the years and has the "good book" stamp on it. Also, anything that was published over even 50 years ago might not be published now if it were submitted for the first time (this is something I heard from an agent the other day, so it's not just coming from little ol' me.)
Popular excuses for not reading:

  • So much of it is crap. Well, that's true. A lot of the books out there are crap. I also write a lot of crap myself and my poor critique partners have to sift through it and find something positive to say. Part of life is digging through crap so you can find the pony.
  • I don't have time. I have children. I have a husband. I have a hamster. I'm writing my own book and trying to take care of my neighbor's fish and I work full-time as a homicide detective in Detroit. Most of us are pressed for time, and you know why? Whenever we get a break, it's usually spent watching television, buying crap we don't need, or reading some crazy blog--like this one. We're so busy being distracted and overstimulated, most of us don't get enough exercise or sleep because of it. Reading is relaxing and it's a great way to avoid annoying conversations with weirdos. There's something strangers respect about someone who's reading a book. (Tip: if you use an e-reader, cover it in a big book so it looks like a "real" book.) Family members are a different story. I suggest finding a way to hide. I get a lot of my reading done on public transportation, on my lunch, and right before bed. One of my friends multitasks by listening to Audible books on her iPhone while she's cooking, cleaning or doing some other repetitive task.
  • I can't afford to buy every book that comes out. So don't buy every book you read. Use your local library. Trade with friends. Review books. If you have an e-reader and a book blog, you can write reviews for services like NetGalley and get free electronic galleys of upcoming books.
Okay, read more lecture over with. I just had to get that off my chest.