At least once a week, someone asks me the secret to writing a good book and getting it published.
I'm always tempted to make up something fun, like insisting the key is to send three devastatingly handsome, shirtless men to the home of a romantic comedy author with strict instructions to arrive bearing a full bottle of Chianti and an insatiable urge to wash dishes.
But the truth is, I know the answer to the question. And it's staggering in its simplicity.
Read everything. Read fiction and non-fiction, erotica and sports trivia, blogs and magazines. Read books on writing craft and books on how to repair your carburetor. Read short stories and poetry and the back of the deodorizer can in the bathroom (you know you’ve done it).
I’m always astounded when writers tell me they don't read much. "I don't have time," they might say. "I don't want to be influenced by someone else's writing."
Isn't that a bit like a gourmet chef suggesting he only eats Big Macs or a porn star saying she doesn't put out?
Studying other people’s writing – the good, the bad, and the holy-crap-please-stick-a-fork-in-my-eye – is the best way I know to hone your own skills as a writer.
It’s something I’ve always known, but I allow myself to forget from time to time. This past weekend, I had no pressing book deadlines for the first time in a year. My third contracted book is off my desk, and I don't need to start a new one right away. I gave myself permission to read.
I have to tell you, it was glorious. Toe-curlingly, knuckle-bitingly amazing.
Don't let the fact that I was with my cousin and his wife ruin that poetically orgasmic image.
While we’re on the subject of reading, here's a link to an amazing essay on why you should date an illiterate girl. It's darkly funny and a little crass, but beautifully written. Don't click if you're easily offended (but if that's the case, why are you hanging out on my blog?)
Are you a reader? How does it impact you as a writer? Are there certain books that have influenced your writing more than others? Please share.
And please read. For the good of all mankind.
Or at least the readers among us.