Why Do You Read?

Why do you read? For pleasure or for instruction?

I read for pleasure and instruction. Because I’m still writing, I read for instruction, books like John MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-By. I’m reading this because I’m writing another mystery and I haven’t read that many mysteries. I’m also reading for pleasure and it takes me to a place I’ve never been before.

Reading is important to me. It’s instructional to me as a writer. Without reading, how do I know how to write? Perhaps through watching TV? Never. Or reading books other than those I want to write? That is counter productive, at least for me.

Say a writer reads children’s stories, but the writer writes mysteries. A writer should read the type of story he/she wants to write. Although some writers don’t do this and yet they are successful writers. The reason they are successful writers is that whatever they read, the pattern of writing gets inside of them. And because reading is instructional, whether they know it or not. It may be instructional in an unconscious way, but it’s there, waiting for reader to write. Or not. Obviously, not all readers become writers or we would be inundated with writers and their books.

If I read a mystery, I learn how to write drama, suspense and sometimes humor. Or say the writer reads autobiographies and yet writes humor. Still the writer learns through reading autobiographies how to write successfully.

It’s like learning to read. Did you read cereal boxes? I bet you did. You want to learn things, you want to learn how to read and write. Eventually, reading becomes unconscious. You just sit down and read, forgetting that once you didn’t know how to.

When I teach creative writing I always bring a story to dissect. How does the writer achieve the effect he/she wants? By dissecting the story my students learn how the writer does this. Not that my students go home and write a good story. It takes practice to learn to how to write well.

For the reader, the story may keep the reader in suspense or the reader may laugh (or smile) at the humor in the story or the reader may sit back and think about the story. If the reader finishes the story and wants another: this is evidence of good writing.

Now that we’ve discussed reading, I’d like to know why YOU read? For pleasure? To be carried to a world you never thought about? To see the future? To entertain your child? Or for instruction for yourself?

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Sue Powers’ fictions have appeared in numerous publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings and Blue Earth Review and many others. She was a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her mystery, She’s Not There, will be published soon. She’s now writing another mystery.

How to be a Writer

 

What do you need to be a writer?

No matter what kind writing you want to do, you must read the kind of writing you plan to write. This is the maxim of every writer I know.

You also need an imagination. Now where does your imagination live? I imagine it comes from somewhere inside of you. The gut? The unconscious? Your heart? Your brain? It’s really difficult to say but I do know how to access it.

First you put away your editor. Your editor will always get in your way. Second, put a pen in your hand and piece of paper in front of you. Then start writing. Don’t think, don’t stop, let your imagination run wild. It doesn’t matter if what you write stinks. It’s the accessing of your imagination that counts. If you happen to write something good, go to your computer and enter the text you’ve written then keep on writing. You can edit later. The point is, get it down and keep on writing.

Next is craft. I know many don’t want to take the time or effort it takes to improve their craft. But if you want to be a successful writer, you must improve your craft. One way to do this is to join a writing group. You also must continue to read. Reading provides inspiration and education.

It provides education through the way the writer writes. There are also many books out there that are instructional. One of the books I’d recommend is 1,001 Tips for Writers by William A. Gordon.

If you have to mimic this author’s prose, go ahead. But don’t leave it there. Try to write your own way. A successful writer has his or hers unique style. Mimicking other writers is only a way to begin to craft your own style. This might take weeks or even years, so a writer needs tenacity.

Doesn’t matter what you write, you need to access your brain, your imagination and create your own style. You also need to dig deep inside of you and pull out memories, secrets and things you don’t want to remember.

So start accessing your memories and your imagination, beginning now….

Sue Powers has a dazzling array of publishing credits. Among her favorites are New Millennium Writings, StoryQuarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, Facets, The Writer’s Place and Samizdada. She’s won some writing awards and been nominated for others. She now has 15 published stories.

When You’ve Got To Read It – But You Don’t Want To

read me

Compliments of Guest Blogger, Richard Shandross

I would venture a guess that, like me, you have a lot of things going on in your life and work. A lot of things.

Sometimes our obligations involve reading things that – just right now – we don’t really want to read. For me, it can be a report, a submission that came back highly edited, the text of a government regulation – the list goes on – which would be welcome at another time. But at this moment there are too many other things on my mind, other things I have to get done. Let’s face it: it can be a pain to switch gears on a dime from, say, writing a proposal to reading a marketing analysis.

We can always just put it off until the last minute – after all, when do-or-die time comes around we can tap our fear to overcome pretty much any obstacle. But that is hardly healthy or enjoyable, nor is it good planning.

Naturally, I haven’t found anything that works 100% of the time, and I’ve been trying different solutions for quite some time. But recently, as I was dealing with this very situation, I realized that I’ve made a lot of progress.

The key for me is this: get it done without getting it done.

No, no Taoism or Zen is involved here – I just mean that I refrain from trying to steamroll over my internal resistance. I drop the intention of reading … at least in any normal way … and treat whatever it is as though I am window-shopping it:

“Oh, it’s 12 pages. That’s nice. Look at all the grammar mistakes … ha! How the heck is this darn thing organized, anyway? I can’t make heads or tails of this from just looking!”

“I think I’ll just see what the last paragraph or two says. Maybe they summarize everything so well that I don’t have to read any more than that. Oh, I guess it’s not quite that good, but I did learn a thing or two about what’s inside.”

“Say, there are a few graphics. I can get some info from those. Egads, this table is weird.”

Actually, the piece I am avoiding might be a great document. But whether it’s good or less-than-stellar, here is what is happening at this point: I find myself developing some interest and connection with the document in spite of myself.

Ok, sometimes I put the piece down at this point, happy just to have gotten that far. Wandering attention happens. Roadblocks happen. Fear of what is in the item (say a critical response from a client) happens.

But here’s what happens as I spend more time with the document, even if I am not reading it per se: my brain starts taking in and interpreting the contents anyway. The edges of the wall between me and the document start softening, even crumbling.

cranky man readingMost frequently, one of these four things will happen:

  1. My defenses lower enough that I can read the item without a Herculean effort.
  2. I actually find myself getting involved enough, mentally or even emotionally, that I start to want to read the thing.
  3. I keep “studying” and exploring without getting much traction, until I run across a section of the piece that I find interesting. After finishing that section – it could be a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or more – I may find myself back in difficult straits, in which case I just go back to “non-reading.”
  4. I do not make a whole lot of progress and need to ratchet things up a bit.

If the going is just too tough, I will try using a timer (I like the free Pomodoro software tool at Sourceforge) and chew into the document (or whatever it is) one bite at a time. No more Mr. Non-reader Guy!

There have been times when I literally chop up a reading task (or editing, for that matter), into dozens of 5-minute intervals. It can be torture. But, almost always, I find it possible to extend the time chunks to 10, 15, 25 minutes at a time. And it is not uncommon for me to finally get into a flow and just sail through the rest of it.

Of course if all of the above fails, and if the task involving reading or editing is really important – well, sometimes I just end up procrastinating until I have to ride the panic like a wave. After all, isn’t that why God invented coffee?

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Rich is a professional reader, writer, and arithmeticker who occasionally suffers reader’s block. He is an energy consultant for Navigant Consulting, and I’m pleased to say, my brother.