An oft-repeated piece of advice for writers is short and sweet: “Read.” As writers we need to immerse ourselves in words, and usually this has been our bent from birth. We are those who as children got told off for reading with our friends on a playdate (yes that was me), or for not engaging with the family on car journeys because we had our nose in a book (me again, before I starting suffering from travel sickness). We read the back of a cereal box as we eat or scan the junk mail when we’re waiting for the microwave to finish. Reading often comes to writers as second nature.
Why read? As we lose ourselves in a book, we chew and swallow and digest the writing, which imparts richness to our writing. Although all of this reading might mean that our early attempts to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard sound like we’re parroting our favorite authors, for we haven’t yet developed our voice. But as the words get inside us, and as we continue to hone our writing, the writings of others help us to find our voice.
We also gain in the mechanics of writing when we step back to analyze what we’re reading. For example, with fiction, we notice where the plot worked or didn’t, or how the characters were developed, or how the author set the scenes. With non-fiction, we see the strength of the argument or the winsomeness of the writing. We learn new words and become more confident of our own style.
And when we just can’t get on with a book, we also learn. When the editor in me starts to comment internally when I’m reading, I sigh and realize that I won’t long be engaging with the book I’m reading. I promise you, I mentally turn off AmyEditor when I pick up a book, but if the prose is purple, the characters wooden or unbelievable, the arguments lacking, she pipes up and makes herself known.
What should we read? Yes, obviously, lots in our own category, whether it’s crime fiction or devotionals or fantasy. But we should push ourselves to read more widely, including the popular novels of the day (book clubs are good for encouraging this), leading Christian thinkers, TED-talk thinkers, and a good dose of the classics. And a cereal box or two won’t hurt either.
This year I’ve finally made good on my resolution to keep a list of the books I’ve read over the year. As I look back over the first 5 months, I see that I’ve read equally between fiction and non-fiction – not that I planned this. Mostly books by Christian publishers – only 25 percent by general publishers – but I’m not surprised by that because of my work as a book reviewer for the Woman Alive book club and more sporadically with Christianity magazine. As I flick down the list, I see gems such as Hidden in Christ that I will read again and some works I’ll soon forget.
How does your writing inform your reading? What are you reading now? Do you keep a list of books you read?
Amy Boucher Pye loves running the Woman Alive book club, including the lively Facebook group. She’s finally seeing her own first book published this autumn by Authentic Media: FindingMyself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity. She lives in a vicarage in North London with books, books, and more books (and her lovely family). She blogs at amyboucherpye.com and tweets at @AmyBoucherPye.