Saturday, January 3, 2015

Advice You Don't Want, But Probably Need

Okay, this blog might not make me any friends.  But I think still needs to be said.

Writers, aspiring writers, writers who think they're writers but have yet to write anything, please read good writing.

I think it's important—so important that I took time out of my day to blog about this when I really should be hanging out with Sway—to read well written books.

I find that my writing suffers when I read things that are written... not well.  However, if I keep reading well written things on a regular basis, it reflects in my writing.

Now, before you all start to unite in madness about how reading "corrupts your voice" let me stop you.

I stay away from rock star novels.  I love them, don't get me wrong, and I have a whole list that I'm planning on reading after I finish my series.  Because corruption of voice is a real thing and I don't want to chance it.  I also don't want to be reading a book and see a similar idea and think that I'll never do it that well or someone will think this is where I got the idea. It's too much of a distraction and it'll make my job that much harder.  So I avoid rock star novels like no other.  But not joking about the list.  I'm going to go on a reading binge as soon as this series wraps up.

I still read in my genre though.  I read all the time.  I read way more than I make public because I can't always say nice things about what I'm reading so I keep it to myself.  I have HUGE opinions that belong to me and me alone.  I have no desire to inflict every single one on you, just the important ones (insert creepy winky face).  If I read something and LOVE it, you'll know, I'll totally share the crap out of that.

So let's go back to corruption of voice.  If you're reading things that are poorly written, that will corrupt your voice.  More than that, I believe it actually vaporizes brain cells.  Did you know that you can't regrow brain cells?  Once they're gone, they're gone.  That's it.  No more.  You have what you have and if you waste them on getting blackout drunk or reading piss-poor writing, they're still the same amount of gone.  Which is wholly and completely. 

This is why I download samples.  I have this habit of reading poor writing and trying to fix it in my head.  It's exhausting and drains me of much needed resources.  If I can't get through a sample without trying to fix the issues, I won't read the rest.  For example, first person present tense is incredibly difficult for me to read.  It has to be done very well for me to not look at it like a blog post.  A novel shouldn't read like a blog.  It should read like a novel.  It's supposed to suck me in and transport me to an all new reality where I don't even notice literary rules being broken.  I have a handful of authors who I have no trouble reading who write in first-person-present.  I love them.  They are awesome.

So I try to read amazing stuff.  It stimulates my brain to think in different ways, go in new directions, jump-starts stagnant ideas, pushes my creative boundaries.  Especially the classics.  Right now I'm reading three books at once. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas.  I tend to read more when I'm writing, it makes a hell of a difference.  

Do I write like Austen, Scott, or Dumas?  Oh, hell now.  Not even close.  But they make my thoughts reach for the stars.  And the stars is exactly where I want to be when I'm writing. 

Here's a true story:
I read a book once that had a decent storyline but was badly executed, poorly handled, and it read like a rough draft.  I actually had to listen to heavy metal music with headphones to keep me awake while I read it because I kept falling asleep.  THREE TIMES.  I was under the impression that if I started something, I should finish it.  I have since revised this belief to make the exception for bad writing.  See, after I finished that book, I was broken.  For almost a month I couldn't write at all.  I was depressed and sad and lacked any motivation at all.  So I read all of Penny Reid's books in a week and suddenly I was cured.

Because she writes funny, smart, witty stories that I absolutely adore. (READ HER THINGS NOW.)

This is my plea to writers: be the best you can be.  
No, not everyone is going to go down in history as a literary genius like F. Scott, or lovely Ms. Austen.  But you can be the best YOU.  You're limiting yourself when you fill your head with CRAP.  Stop doing it.  I can tell.  You're not fooling me.  If you're satisfied with reading books that are bland, predicable, and quite frankly stupid, then your work is going to reflect that.  Very obviously.  Why push yourself when you're reading others that clearly don't care about doing their best? 

Or, and I can't even believe this is even something I have to address because it's ludicrous to me, if you're not reading at all.  

Now, I get not having time to read when you're in the editing process and it requires intense focus, but that's temporary.  Realistically, you should have a book on your metaphorical nightstand that you plan on returning to as soon as you can.  Writers who claim they don't read piss me right the hell off.  It's like, really?  You expect the world to read your stuff but, you, great awesome wordsmith, are too good to pick up a book?  Is it beneath you? Get over yourself. The best writers read.  Period.  End of discussion.

That would be like a mechanic too busy to drive.  Or a pastry chef who doesn't eat food.  Impossible I tell you!

OH! And mix up your genres.  Don't be a book snob (ew, I judge you for your judgements).  Read the classics, read new things.  Read something ridiculous and fun.  Just read!  ( I feel like this can apply to a lot of things, like music and movies as well.  Genre hating is stupid and you're missing out on life.  Really).  I love me a good thriller, or romance, young adult is wonderful.  It's not the genre that matters, it's the quality of the storytelling.  That's where you should be focused.  If it makes you think, if it compels you to better your craft, then read it.  

Read the crap out of it.