A simple writing truth is that to be a great writer, you must be a great reader. To fully absorb the author’s artistry, analyze the stories you read to understand how the writers crafted them. How did the author engage you as a reader? What was satisfying about the story? What craft elements stood out for you? What didn’t work?
As I read, I stay alert for sentences or paragraphs that cause a ping in my chest. Then I ask myself why I liked them and make a note.
Watch for these elements of writing craft as you read.
Metaphors. I assigned myself a project this week to make a note of metaphors that stand out in my reading. They don’t even have to be good. We can learn from something we read that doesn’t seem to work quite right. Note the metaphor and why you do or don’t like it. I’ll be doing a blog post in the future where I’ll share a list I’ve collected.
Description. When you read a distinctive description of a character or a setting, take notes about what makes it different so you can apply the ideas to your own work. Look for descriptions that are organic to the story. In the post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, he describes the world his father and son characters inhabit. “Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.” Read more
In “Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication & Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams,” author Heather Sellers recommends limiting the books you read while you’re writing your novel.
In an earlier chapter, she recommends making a top 100 list of books like the one you want to write and to read these books before you start writing.
But while writing your book, she says to limit your reading to six books: three books like the one you want to write (the books that inspire you the most) and three craft books. When she wrote her memoir, “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face Blindness, and Forgiveness,” she had the following craft books on her desk: Robert McKee’s “Story,” John Gardner’s “On Becoming a Novelist,” and Eric Maisel’s “Fearless Creating.”
Sellers stacks her six books on her desk and before she starts writing she might flip through them for inspiration or, if she gets stuck during her writing, she turns to them for a boost. She calls them her “Six Wise Guides” and says the reason she sticks with six is for focus. These six books, she says, will teach her everything she needs to know to write her own book.
In my next post, I’ll share my six guides and why I chose them. What six books would you choose and why?
Since the printed word came into being, people have been promoting literacy one way or another. An early way of doing so was via bookmobile. The first “books on wheels” were developed in the 1800’s in England as a way to get books to rural areas far away from city or town libraries.
I remember waiting with barely-contained excitement each week for our local bookmobile “Little Chief” to drive up to my parents’ grocery story. Being the only business in our small bayside community, we were a natural location for the bookmobile to offer its weighty words and bright, shiny covers to patrons.
I’m sure Little Chief was one of the reasons I became an avid reader. I devoured my books each week so I could experience the joy of choosing new ones the next week.
Despite the internet and the e-book revolution, the bookmobile still exists in our county. I passed the big, purple behemoth the other day and had an instant flashback to those early days of learning to love to read. The adventures of Huck Finn, the Swiss Family Robinson, and the Lone Ranger echoed my own adventures as I discovered the ample forests of my childhood. The bookmobile was my bat mobile where all kinds of adventures awaited me each week.
Bookmobiles are still used in many countries and some are run without a vehicle. Examples include:
Little Free Libraries is an organization looking for help to build and place Little Free Libraries where kids and adults need good books.
Their mission is to:
- Promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
- Build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.
Their goal is to build 2,510 Libraries–as many as Andrew Carnegie–and keep going!
To find out how you can help promote literacy and spread the word, please visit their website.
“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” – Andrew Carnegie
I think a really great book touches all of a reader’s emotions. Have you ever read something where you were laughing one minute and crying the next? On his blog, author Matt de la Pena advocates embracing rather than avoiding sadness in writing. He discussed this topic in Novels Have Become an Escape on “Room for Debate,” a feature of the New York Times opinion pages.
If you’re writing a melancholy book, you may want to read books from a list de la Pena compiled, which includes his comments about the books. You can also learn more about writing from de la Pena in this post, Get out of your reader’s way with these tips.
“Melancholy Reading List”by Matt de la Pena:
– Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (Best novel I’ve ever read.)
– Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (Beautiful and quiet working class YA from a female perspective.) Read more
No matter what genre we write or like to read, there are certain books that, as writers, we can learn so much from.
I remember the first time I read Carson McCullers’s novel “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” What struck me most was the way she used setting in her story – how it became a living, breathing presence.
What are the best books to read and learn from? Opinions vary but below are lists from two successful authors and one grand list from the Guardian. Browse their lists and then create your own.
From suspense and thriller writer Lee Childs: Top 40 Books of All Time
From Pulitzer-winning author Michael Chabon: Top Ten List
And from the Guardian: The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time
Do you have any favorites to add?