Does Reading Help Your Writing? (Tips on Writing Tuesday #4)

“If you want to be a good writer you have to read…LOTS!”

Have you ever heard anybody say that?
I got sick of it.  Every time I went to a website that talked about writing, or perused a writing magazine, or talked to an author, they all said the same thing: “Make sure you spend just as much time reading as you do writing.”


Old me: “Well that’s stupid.  I’m trying to become a writer!  I have family, work…LIFE.  If I don’t take every extra second I have to write I’ll never get that best-seller written!”

Well, old me was ignorant and stubborn.  Thankfully I saw the light.

Three years ago I was still in the early stages of working on my new YA novel and I was at Barnes and Noble with my wife.  She had gone off to wander the shelves and I was going through the magazine stacks.

I walked past the new Writer’s Digest once.  I walked past it twice.  Finally I picked it up.

I walked over to the cafe and sat down next to my love, who had two or three books she was skimming through (she’s an avid reader).  I began looking over the articles and pretending like I was interested and learning a lot.  I stopped on an article that said, in a nutshell, “Read More And Become a Better Writer”.  I sighed, frustrated.

Again with the reading!

My wife was sitting there with her stack of books.  I remember breaking down and gently asking her, “If I read more do you think I’ll be a better writer?”

Short of stating the obvious, she kindly, encouragingly said, “If you were to ask any one of the author’s who has their book in this store that question, what do you think they would say?”

I looked around the store at the THOUSANDS of books and reality set in.  I finally decided to let go of my pride and find the humility to do what had been blatantly obvious all along – READ!

“Honey, what’s the best written book you’ve read recently?”

She thought for a second and replied, ‘The Goose Girl’ by Shannon Hale.”  Uh, okay…sounds manly!

I got the book the next day from the library and read several chapters.  The writing was amazing and on a WHOLE different plane than the stuff I was typing on the keypad.  It would have been easy to get discouraged, but…

The next time I sat down to write, I instantly noticed an improvement in my writing.  No kidding; it was instant.  And the more I continued to read, the more my writing continued to improve.

I am here to testify to you that it works.  Yes, reading does make you a better writer!

Ever since then I have been an active reader.  I strive to read a book every two weeks.  Sometimes the books are well written and I learn ways to improve and sometimes I don’t like what I’m reading and I learn the type of writing I want to avoid.  Either way, I’m learning and growing as a writer.

So if you are not already, find something to read…and don’t stop – your writing will thank you for it!

PS – Thank you Shannon Hale for opening my eyes!

If you are a writer, how does being a more active reader help your writing?


Review of ‘Enna Burning’ by Shannon Hale (Through the Shelf Thursday #2)

Title: Enna Burning
Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: YA/MG Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

Enna and Princess Isi became fast friends in The Goose Girl, but after Isi married Prince Geric, Enna returned to the forest. Enna’s simple life changes forever when she learns to wield fire and burn anything at will. Enna is convinced that she can use her ability for good–to fight Tira, the kingdom threatening the Bayern borders–and goes on secret raids to set fire to the Tiran camps and villages. But as the power of the fire grows stronger, she is less able to control her need to burn. In her recklessness she is captured by the Tiran army and held captive by a handsome, manipulative young captain who drugs her to keep her under his influence. Can Isi and her old friends Finn and Razo rescue her without sacrificing themselves? And with the fire still consuming her, will Enna find a way to manage the gift that threatens to destroy her?

Date I Finished Reading: September 10, 2012

My Rating: 3.5 of 5

My Review: (also on Goodreads, Amazon):

I love Shannon Hale’s writing style.  You can tell that she takes it serious and wants every single sentence to mean something and to help us understand the characters better.  But…

While I enjoyed Enna Burning, it was a disappointment after reading The Goose Girl – the first title in the Books of Bayern series.  In all honesty, it almost didn’t feel like the same Enna from the first book.  And I understand that, in a way, that’s the point.  She has a new conflict in her life that is taking her places she has never been and she is trying to figure out how to handle them…I get that.  But the problem was, as a reader…I just didn’t care as much.

The parts I was interested in (i.e. using the fire during battle or the mysterious group called the tata-rook) seemed to move faster than I would like, or with not as much depth.  The parts that I thought were not as important or could have been glossed over seemed to draaaag on (i.e. Enna being held captive by Sileph).

I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with Enna and Isi again, and for me that’s what kept me involved in the story.  The parallel between wind and fire was beautifully told and helped to bring a solid conclusion to the book (hence the reason I gave it a 3.5).

I guess I just wanted it to be more than it was – but what it is is still very, very good.  Oh, the dilemma of high expections…truly unfare to the reader (and the writer).   SIDENOTE: I still love you Shannon Hale! 🙂

Dear reader: What did you think of the book?

My Favorite Book of All Time (Through the Shelf Thursday #1)

What is the best book you have ever read?

Think about that for a second…that’s a tough one.

After much thought and contemplation, I have come up with an answer and, more importantly, the reasoning behind it.

The best book I have ever read is Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Why is it my favorite? Because I care about the characters in this story more than any other story I have ever read. Whenever I see the cover, hear the name, see the DVD at the video store (it’s also a fantastic movie) or talk to somebody about it, all I can think about is Lennie and those damn rabbits and George and that little shack on a few acres and…my heart wells up.

John Steinbeck drew me in and made me love those characters so much because they were imperfect, they were flawed, and in a way, they were me. They had the same desires and dreams, the same fears and apprehensions, and, at the end of the day, I wanted them to succeed because, in a way, if they did then I would.

The plot develops simply.  The characters – all of them – are real and add to the story  There are moments of laughter, of sadness, of hope and ultimately despair. And you want to talk about the “human condition” (as so many oft like to do) – the climax to Of Mice and Men has the most honest lecture I’ve ever read on the human condition. In some ways you see it coming and in some ways you don’t, but in the end it’s not played out as a gimmick, there is no shock value, it is pure utter sadness and pain because what happened HAD to happen…it was the only way.


John Steinbeck, in this very, very tiny novel, proved what every writer is taught in Writing 101 – make it short, sweet and to the point. I’m so grateful he did.

I know how it ends and yet it doesn’t change the fact that I still root for Lennie to get those damn rabbits and George to settle down in that little shack.

What a story!

What’s your favorite book of all time?   I would love to hear about it.