Writing + Reading = Better Writing
When I get a new client who comes to me and tells me that this is their first book, I’m always curious as to the amount of work it’s going to need. Sometimes we have to start at the very beginning and work on their plot structure, their character and conflict development, and their dialogue, if they’re writing fiction; if they’re writing nonfiction, sometimes we start with the organization and the development of their ideas and lessons they’re trying to teach.
Once in a while, I’m amazed by how well a first book is done. Sometimes they don’t need that developmental help because it’s such a strong draft; we can move right to line editing, to polishing the words themselves and how they’re put together.
What makes the difference between the draft that needs a lot of help with the big picture and the one that doesn’t? I think it’s a mix of different things, but I think it often comes down to how much the author has studied the writing process itself as well as how much they’ve read. Whether you’re taking a class (or two or three) or you’re part of a writing group, or you’re simply reading, reading, reading to try to learn how others write successfully, you have to continue to learn and grow.
This applies to me too. Remember that resolution I made to read more—and to read more as a writer and an editor? I’m still doing that. I just finished Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (blog forthcoming about that), and I’m currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates as well as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. They are two very different books written in very different styles (not to mention different genres), and I’m enjoying them both for different reasons (although “enjoy” is not exactly the right word for Coates’ book, given the difficult subject).
I really can’t encourage you enough to branch out and read a lot of books, including books that others are reading and talking about that might not be found in your regular section of the bookstore or the library. Change it up!
In addition to upping my reading game, I’ve also just enrolled in James Patterson’s Master Class in Writing. I haven’t read anything of his in quite a while; when Alex Cross seemed to become more interested in romance than his friendship with Sampson and solving crimes, I stopped reading those books. I’ve also been critical of how many books he churns out—those of his own and those that he’s co-authored—each year.
However, those early Cross books … those were something. They held me spellbound and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I loved Alex and his kids and his Nana Mama and Sampson. The character development was great. The pacing was spot-on. The stories were interesting and suspenseful. The man can write a thriller.
So I signed up for his class, and I did it for lots of reasons.
- He knows how to write, and I know I’ll learn something—hopefully many things—from the process.
- There will be assignments, which means I’ll have to write. I need that kick in the rear sometimes.
- There’s an online community for everyone taking the class, and I’ve wanted to be part of a writers’ group for a while. I’m looking forward to sharing our work and getting feedback from others.
- I anticipate getting excited about my writing again, which is always good.
- I believe I’ll learn things that I’ll be able to throw into my editor’s toolkit and put to work on my clients’ projects as well as my own.
- I want to enter the writing contest that is open to students in the class.
I want to keep learning and growing, and I think this class is going to help me do that. Plus, I think it’s going to be fun!
Don’t worry. This class happens on my schedule, which is great, so I’m still working, still editing, still eager to talk to you about your book. Are you ready to take the next step and talk to an editor? If so, please send me an email at email@example.com and tell me all about your book, about your writing experience, and how I can help you polish your work before you send it out into the world.
Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to read your thoughts or questions in the comments below. Take a minute to send me one!