Reading to Write

Every writers’ guide in the world says you can’t write without reading. We should read widely to learn what we like, read the good stuff to learn what works, read the popular stuff to learn what sells and read drivel to learn what does neither. We should not be afraid to mimic (whilst avoiding copying). We should read literary magazines to choose where to send our work, and because it is only fair to read other people’s work if we expect them to read ours. We should read novels and pay close attention to the publishers / agents who took them on, so that in due course we know who best to approach. And of course, we should continue reading for fun, because there aren’t many writers in the world who didn’t love reading first.

And while we’re devouring all these written words, we should ensure that we are not skim-reading but are closely studying the text for every literary device, every style choice and a million other things that I haven’t got space to list here.

All this while we are living on the meagre profits of not being able to sell our work; or trying to fit in writing as a second or third job whilst working to put a roof over our heads and food on our tables.

I don’t disagree with the advice, I am just aware of the difficulties it creates. If I subscribed to every literary magazine I was thinking about submitting to, I’d be broke. So, I am beginning to look at alternatives, like sharing subscriptions with one or two friends. Books (not so much magazines) are available through lending libraries and second-hand shops.  And there is always Christmas – perhaps I will just ask for subscriptions as presents this year.

As for mimicry, I agree that it has its benefits, but there are drawbacks. I recently read over a longish manuscript I had written during a school summer holiday. You could tell from the text when I had been reading Pride and Prejudice and when To Kill A Mockingbird. I think a bit of Douglas Adams might have crept in there too. It was imaginative, in places even good, but consistent it was not!

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