Tag Archives: Reading and writing

How Can You Be a Writer if You’re Not a Reader?

I  read a number of blogs. One blog I regularly read is written by an agent. On this particular occasion there was an informal discussion going on between several agents and editors, chatting about a dichotomy between readers and writers. The gist of it was that there were a whole lot of writers out there that weren’t readers. People convinced that they had a “book or two in them.” Or people who feel you can’t read other’s work in your genre because it will interfere with your “voice”

To me, the question has always been how can you effectively write a book if you don’t read them? Base it on TV? Your fascinating life? Because you’re a professional writer on the job?

I write many things professionally, articles, seminars, notes, and lots of reports. I’m writing something every day and while I don’t have the time to read six or more books a week anymore, I do read something everyday. I read for pleasure. I also read to keep an eye out for what is selling, what’s not, styles of writing, and premises used.

I write creatively and have completed two 90k contemporary romance manuscripts of a trilogy and I’m working on a paranormal trilogy. So, I’d say I had “a book or two in me”. I’ve told stories all my life. I come from a very creative family of oral storytellers and published authors.

My love of books came from reading voraciously throughout my life. As a child my parents and grandparents felt to be well read one must read classic literature first. I was also encouraged to branch out and explore various genres, not just one. Consequently, I regularly read various sub-genres of romance, paranormals, suspense and thrillers, and I love Sci-fi. You could say I’m a mood driven reader. I’m the same with music for much of the same reasons-my parents and grandparents.

There is a perception out there that you can’t read another’s words when formulating your stories-something nonsensical about copying the voice or premise, yada yada. To me, that’s BS. My voice is mine and doesn’t change just because I read someone’s work.

I often think about how coaches train their athletes. It isn’t by ignoring the competition. To the contrary, they watch recorded games of the competition so they can be better. Actors know the style of other actors-they watch them. You don’t think musicians aren’t aware of those who produce the same style of music? Or artists aren’t aware of whose style is similar?

As an author, to know what’s marketable you have to read it. Analyze it. That’s keeping your finger on the pulse of market.

I’m a marketing/promotion rep by profession, to sell my products and people; I have to be familiar with what’s out there. Is their product comparable? Better? Worse? How is it packaged? Any book I write is my product and to market it effectively I have to know what’s selling, what my target demographics are and why.

So, you want to be a author? Read. Particularly in your genre. Know what’s selling out there and why.

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Land Cradled By the Waves

Some of my earliest memories are of bedtime stories being read to me, and I was an avid reader from the time I learned how. When I was in grade school and junior high I had special library privileges – because I had to jump on the school bus as soon as school was out, I was dismissed from class 5 or 10 minutes early each day so I could go to the library and pick out a book, which I would then read that night and return the next morning. On Sundays, I would check out several books from the church library. I read at least one book a day.

When I was little, my parents thought it was nice that I liked to read so much. They were proud that I was such an avid reader. But I was raised on a farm where everyone was expected to pitch in and help, and as I got older, what was perceived as cute became an irritation, especially to my Dad, who thought I should be working instead of “wasting time” reading. I took to reading late at night, sometimes in my bed, with a flashlight, half hidden under the covers, so my parents wouldn’t see the light. There are photos of me sitting at a picnic table or in the back seat of the car when we were on family vacations, reading, when according to my Mom and Dad, I should have been doing things with my family – hiking, swimming – the things “normal” kids do. When I tried to read, my sisters and brothers teased me. My parents yelled at me. Reading became a sore spot.

I stubbornly ignored them and kept reading… and writing. A poetry class and then, a creative writing teacher, inspired and encouraged me to write, to express myself. I was a straight A student, fueled as much by what I learned from the books I read as what I was taught in class.

But somewhere about the time I was a junior in high school, I started to accept the message that was repeated over and over again – at worst, that reading was a waste of time, at best, that reading was something people only did when they were too old to work and had nothing better to do with their time. I stopped reading for pleasure. My school courses became more demanding and required more reading, and I was involved in several extracurricular activities – choir, yearbook editor, 4-H, youth group at church – that required my attention and took a lot of time. This was even more true in college. What free time I did have was spent talking with friends in my dorm. I started working and dating. I wrote reams of poetry while I was at Wheaton, exulting in first loves and new experiences, questioning, learning, growing up. But I read only what I had to.

I married after two years at Wheaton and moved to Germany. I continued my studies and wrote avidly – this time in the form of term papers and hundreds of hand-written letters to my parents, in-laws, Grandmas, and friends. But I didn’t read. I earned money and I worked. I gave up the fight and listened to the inner voice in my head that said I was being lazy when I sat down to read a book… that I should be working… that I should be doing something worthwhile, productive.

Books in English weren’t that readily available in Germany, but more importantly, my life was in crisis. My marriage was a mess, and I made a series of bad choices in the years that followed… choices that I was ashamed of, felt guilty about, and couldn’t talk… or write… about. I lost hope, felt depressed, eventually got divorced. I neither read nor wrote during this period. How can a person read stories with a happy ending when you are so cynical that you don’t believe in them? Writing seemed pointless. It didn’t solve anything, help anything, change anything.

I acquired a sarcastic wit as I fought my way back to emotional health and rebuilt my tattered financial status. I worked countless hours opening a business and eventually found both happiness and success. But I never opened a book.

Then, a friend invited me to join her at Prince Edward Island for a week and a half. Her aunt and uncle owned a vacation house on the water, and had rented the one next door for us to stay. I arrived at the sleepy little island one summer day, and felt immediately at home. Plainly rural, yet beautifully scenic, it lives up to its Indian name, Abegweit, or land cradled by the waves.

I’d never been on a seaside vacation. My family camped, changing locations every night, seeing new sights every day, traveling hundreds of miles over the course of a week’s vacation. I was bored silly, or more accurately, fit to be tied, after 3 days.

My friend’s Aunt Doris was a reader. She handed me a book and told me to relax. I started Sandra Brown’s “French Silk” later that afternoon, sitting in an old lawn chair, overlooking the water. I had read six books by the time I left for home. She let me take another to read on the airplane. I had finished it by the time I reached New Jersey, and bought another at the airport to take me to Minneapolis.

I haven’t stopped since. A year later, I was inspired to write my first novel. My employees, parents, and brothers and sisters all seemed to think I was wasting my time. Would writing pay off? It didn’t seem likely that I would ever get paid for the hours and hours I was spending in front of the computer, typing away.

This time, I again refused to listen. I kept reading… and writing.

In my first published book, “Night and Day”, recently released by Second Wind Publishing, Jensen Marie Christiansen finds pure magic on Prince Edward Island, the place where I rediscovered my love of reading. Is it any surprise I chose this very special island to be the setting of Jensen’s dream come true?

Although my family has learned to accept my passion for books and writing, the entrepreneurial side of me is still bothered on some level that I may never net more than one or two cents an hour for the time and energy I’ve spent writing my books. But I have learned to be proud of my voice. I have learned that dreams really do come true.

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