There are two pieces of writing advice I can guarantee that every aspiring author has received numerous times while pursuing their writing ambitions. The first advice is “read a lot,” and the second is “write a lot.” Both are simple, straightforward tips that likely seem so obvious you might wonder why anyone would find it necessary to give such advice. But there is a reason this advice is repeated so frequently. Both are crucial in helping writers to perfect our craft, and here are my thoughts as to why this is so.
Starting with the recommendation to read a lot, there are numerous benefits to be derived from being well-read. The more you read the works of authors who have preceded you, the more you will learn about the various elements of the craft of writing that are integral to good storytelling. Initially, you may find yourself absorbing many of these lessons without even consciously thinking about it, but before long you’ll start gaining an awareness and appreciation for things such as narrative structure, pacing, grammar rules, description, plotting, dialogue, characterisation and foreshadowing etc. Once you begin taking on board the different facets of fiction writing from the books you read, you’ll be better equipped to incorporate those things into how you tackle the stories you want to write. It’s especially helpful if you are able to identify authors who are great at something you would like to emulate in your own writing.
To illustrate the above point, I’ll give an example of one aspect of storytelling that I feel I have successfully incorporated into my own writing, thanks to reading the work of another author. James Clemens, who is better known as the thriller writer James Rollins, is the author in question, and he has an uncanny ability to write books that can be described as “unputdownable” because his narratives effortlessly compel readers to keep turning the page to find out what happens next. This was something at the forefront of my mind throughout the writing of my debut novel, The Exercise Of Vital Powers. I really wanted my book to achieve and maintain the kind of momentum that would not only immerse readers into the story, but also cause them to feel obliged to keep turning the page. Based on the feedback I have received (and continue to receive) from readers over the past five years, I think I can say with confidence that I succeeded in that goal.
There are several other aspects of my writing I’m always seeking to improve upon. Metaphors and similes were once an example of a serious weakness I knew I wanted to address, which is why I used to avoid using them, and why you won’t find a single one in my first novel. Fortunately, there are authors out there who excel in the different areas I want to work on, and by reading more of their writing I have slowly started turning my weaknesses into strengths. In seeking to become proficient with metaphors and similes, Lian Hearn (pen-name of Gillian Rubinstein) was one author I identified as being exceptionally good at utilising them, and though I can’t claim to be as adept as her, I was confident enough with the development of my writing to make use of several metaphors and similes in my second novel, The Apprentice In The Master’s Shadow.
I still have plenty of room for improvement, and there are a small number of authors I will always look up to as the benchmark for the level I want my writing to reach, so I’ll continue to read and re-read their works. In particular, the writing of Jacqueline Carey, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Lois McMaster Bujold encompasses all the qualities that I aspire to. Someday I hope that I will, likewise, be able to produce the kind of beautiful prose with poetic flow and descriptive writing that I envy them for.
With regard to the benefits of the advice to write a lot, that can be summed up in the idiom that “practice makes perfect.” The more you write, the better your writing will become. I have noticed with my own writing that as time progresses the quality of my prose keeps improving. Every now and then I’ll look back at something I wrote in the past, and the further back I go the more I tend to cringe at what I see. I can honestly say that my writing today is leaps and bounds better than my writing ten years ago, yet it’s almost certainly not as good as it (hopefully) will be in ten years time.
So there you have it, my thoughts on the value of the two most commonly given writing tips for aspiring authors. Be sure to keep reading more, and writing more; it will make you a better writer.
Thanks for reading,