Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can a post about writing advice be talking about reading, rather than writing? It’s a fair question, and one that has a very good answer. Reading — in great quantities and across many genres — is the most important thing that a writer can do in his or her life besides simply writing. Joss Whedon recently gave an interview where he talked about “filling the tank.” The idea behind this is that in between writing projects, you need to fill your creative tank. And that is where reading comes in.
In a Brainpickings post that lists H.P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Aspiring Writers, the very first item listed reads, “No aspiring author should content himself with a mere acquisition of technical rules. … All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading, and the learner must never cease to hold this phase uppermost.” I couldn’t agree more. If you know where to place your commas and your semi-colons, that’s all well and good. But if you know nothing about character development and good pacing for your story, then your writing will lack something fundamental to story success. I believe that you can learn the more emotional and ethereal aspects of writing through reading and studying other authors’ work.
Just as a painter goes to see other artists’ work and a carpenter will admire the make of furniture that is not his own, writers must read what’s out there on the market already. Not only for comparison with your own work, but to glean new techniques to use in your writing. Through reading you can learn what makes good dialogue, how much description is needed for your setting, and how characters should interact so that their relationships seem believable.
Of course, you must be careful not to become so invested in reading that you don’t get around to writing. just fill your tank, as Joss Whedon says, and then return to your writing desk with a clear head and full “tank” of creative resources.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan