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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Read. Write. Repeat.

by Terry McLaughlin

All the writers I've ever met have only one thing in common: they're readers. They've always treasured books and craved the stories inside them.

As children, those future writers absorbed the way stories are told and gathered some of the elements--diction, phrasing, cadence, pacing, structure--that would later blend with educations, experiences, and personalities to produce their individual voices.

And reading helps keep those writers writing. It's not just a matter of rediscovering the universal appeal of timeless classics or staying in touch with current market trends. Like everyone else, writers sometimes need to vacation in the worlds of others' imaginations.

The only way to learn how to tell a certain kind of story is to read that kind of story--a lot. And then to write it, over and over again. Read. Write. Repeat. When the going gets tough, it's a comfort to know the bookstore shelves are full of inspiration and relaxation and reminders of how and why we writers started down our individual paths so long ago.

What was the most valuable lesson you've ever learned from your reading? A recent lesson? How does reading inspire you to write?

12 Comments:

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

Sometimes I've forgotten the importance of reading. Then my work has fallen flat and instead of finding my "voice", I've gotten bogged down in my regular speaking "voice", which isn't near as succinct or interesting.

It's also nice to see how other writers "turn a phrase". In college (a long time ago), we copied a few sentences from a favorite writer and formatted our works with a few sentences in that style. Using one of Fred Chapman's books in his distinctive southern style, I created a few of my best lines ever! I plan on using that technique again when I'm editing or practicing to see what comes out.
Thanks for the post.

 
At 10:16 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Terry,
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from reading other writers was how to write sensory detail. As a young reader, I devoured Mary Stewart romantic suspense novels. And when I need to refill my well, I re-read The Moonspinners where I feel like I'm walking with the heroine on a path through the White Mountains in Crete.

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, eden :-)! I find my writing gets stale when I don't read, too. I get so caught up in the details of writing that I forget about the big picture--why I enjoy love stories so much ;-).

Copying sentences and passages used to be how people learned to write. That technique helped them absorb classic rhetorical styles and possibilities for elegant phrasing. Sounds like you had a clever teacher who gave you another valuable tool ;-).

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, mo :-)! Ah, yes, sensory details :-). When I started writing, I used to have to jot notes reminding myself to add that ("insert smell/sound/sensation stuff here"). Now--gulp!--I'm often so focused on action that I have to remind myself to mention how the characters are reacting internally.

Why can't it all just flow in the correct mix?

I've never read The Moonspinners (saw the movie), but Mary Stewart is a favorite of mine. I'll have to find that book :-).

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Right now I'm reading Karen Robard's Obsession and so far it's almost all narrative and yet she has completely managed to suck me into the story... I'm half way through the book and the heroine has no idea who she is!

What I'm learning from this particular book is that for me it's ALWAYS the story/characters that draws me in and not just the dialogue or the action...because I'm dying to know who she is and who wants her dead??

I love reading great similes, too!

 
At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Michelle said...

I'm always inspired the most to write by reading the best (to me) novels out there. I find that so much more inspiring than the so-called wallbanger books.

Whenever I feel I'm very weak in a particular area, I read a bunch of novels by an author who I think is brilliant at it. It's very helpful.

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger Rebecca said...

When I'm knee-deep in a WIP, I almost have to force myself to read. Then when I do, I'm always surprised at how much it helps to inspire me and shake me loose if I'm stuck.

I, too, devoured Mary Stewart. Moonspinners was my absolute favorite, followed closely by The Ivy Tree and Touch Not the Cat. I loved those books; they swept me away. What a good idea to revisit them, especially now that I'm working on a romantic mystery/suspense. I think I'm gonna grab one off the shelf, dust it off, and start reading it again tonight.

Rebecca

 
At 9:43 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

When I decided to write Regency Historicals, I needed to find my "historical" voice. The way I developed it was to listen to audiotapes of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Over and over until the rhythms of the prose became ingrained.

So my piece of advice is to listen to books in addition to reading them!

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, theresa :-)! Wow--isn't it amazing the way great storytelling can pull in a reader no matter how it's structured? What a great lesson.

I enjoy clever similes, too :-).

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, michelle--I'm inspired by good storytelling, too. I've heard many writers say that it was that "I can do better than this" feeling that got them started writing. That's never been the case for me. I find that great stories put me in the mood to create. And like you, I try to learn from what I read.

 
At 11:49 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, rebecca :-)! I love your phrase "shake me loose if I'm stuck"--that's it, exactly :-)!

I used to skip my reading time as I neared a deadline, because I was so busy. Big mistake. I've discovered the reading can help keep the words flowing--it truly keeps me from getting "stuck."

 
At 11:52 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, diane :-)! Listening to recordings of historical novels--what a fantastic way to get into the historical groove. I love this idea :-)!

 

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