The Internet is full of advice for writers. People will tell you how to write scenes, how to outline, and even how to structure a single sentence. Much of this advice can be helpful (though not all). But, there is one thing I hear successful authors say to aspiring writers again and again:
Read widely and deeply—try a large variety of books and stories and study each one. This is the way we learn how to write.
In doing so, we expose ourselves to the voices, styles, and techniques of authors who have satisfied others with their stories. And their works give us demonstrative examples of how to do the same. We see their expertise in action.
We live in a day and age when the Internet provides us the opportunity to condense large amounts of information into short summaries. You want to know about the Spanish American War? The Wikipedia page on the subject will give you a general knowledge of it.
But, for aspiring writers, it is not enough to go online and search for summaries of authors’ books. A Wikipedia page on the style of a great writer will not teach you how to develop your style. A SparkNotes plot summary of an Agatha Christie mystery will not show you how to create a complicated story-line in 300 pages of prose.
It comes down to a simple fact… we must read well in order to write well.
So, I encourage you to get reading. It doesn’t matter if you want to write crime, romance, westerns, fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, screenplays, and on and on.
Reading is the key to writing anything.
And writers are incredibly lucky. Most of us love to read and want to create the same kinds of novels we enjoy. Our training is FUN! Our homework isn’t a chore, because we’re happy to have a good book in our hands anyway. As a crime writer, I’ve had a great time studying Chandler, Higgins, Leonard, Baldacci, and others. I was reading their books even before I decided to write… because I love the genre and always have.
Don’t rely on summaries or online articles that condense entire books into short write-ups. Don’t try to learn the techniques of an author from some third-party who’s publishing posts about that person’s work. Take the time to READ.
Because, there’s no “Too Long; Didn’t Read” when learning how to write.