King goes on to clarify that you shouldn’t be reading just because it’s good for your writing – like drinking prune juice is because it’s good for your digestion. You, of course, should be reading because you LOVE it. A writer may not, in fact, start out as a passionate reader, but if you’re serious about the craft, you will become one.
But I don’t just read for the love of it. Any book – from pulp to high literature – can be my university as a writer. The good stuff provides multiple examples of techniques that work, and the bad stuff shows me what clichés and pitfalls to avoid. I read as much and as broadly as I can, including books outside my comfort zone (both stylistically and socio-politically). I tilt toward the literary, but I’ve found no reason to look down my nose at beach reads. Those books sell like hotcakes for a reason – they’re fun and fast paced. The authors know a thing or two about suspense and character and how to pull a reader through a story.
But there is still the limited hours-in-a-day conundrum. I am always wishing I could read more. My solution? I just tell myself: if you can’t go far, go deep.
Every few books, I make a point of reading one slowly and deeply. I’ve already blogged about how I’m a slow reader. In this case, it’s a feature not a bug.
Going deep is all about understanding the techniques used in a piece of writing. As I read, I’m looking under the hood of the story or arguement. I keep notes in my journal as I go. How is the author creating the tone of the book? Is it their vocabulary? The sentence structure? Is it in the dialogue? How does he or she help me connect emotionally with the characters? Understand their motivations? If something about the book isn’t working for me, I try to articulate why. If there are elements or techniques that don’t float my personal boat, I not only think about why – but about why those techniques might work for other readers.
This kind of deconstruction might not be everyone’s cup of tea. You might find that simply reading a book over (and over) illuminates how the author accomplished what he or she did with a particular book. The important thing is to strive to understand and internalize the techniques brought to bear on a particular work. With each piece of writing you examine, you’re accruing an innate understanding of the many techniques that go into a powerful piece of writing.
When it is time to write – to put that deep reading into practice – WRITE FAST! Writing fast feels a little out of control. All I can say is get comfortable with that feeling. Like any student you will stumble, fall and fail. But eventually, through careful reading and lots of writing, you’ll find that the tools in the writer’s toolbox are becoming integrated into your writer’s hind brain, and that’s where the magic happens! When the techniques of the craft are in place, the story can just flow out through your fingers.
Keep reading as much as you can, so that you encounter every writing technique over and over, so that you can recognize them across different styles and genres. This summer, you may find you’re enjoying your next beach read differently as you notice how the author manipulates pacing, reveals character or sets up a trail of clues.