There’s a strange (to me at least) current that runs through the Twitter #WritingCommunity every once in a while, and that’s writers who proclaim that they don’t read, and further that they don’t need to be readers to write. This is an alien concept to me. I began to write, way back in junior high, because the books I was reading made me want to tell my own stories. I can’t imagine doing one without the other.
So yes, the best writing advice I know is to read. But, it’s more than that. It’s to read with an open and curious mind, and also with a critical eye, to try to see behind the curtain and understand how the magic happens. That’s not to say that reading should be homework. I frequently find myself lost in a good book, coming up for air hours later, a little dizzy, my heart full, my head in a different place than it was when I began reading. I’m saying, let yourself be carried away by excellent writing, but take notice, if you can, of what makes the writing excellent.
Further, in my experience at least, you can learn different things from different authors. Some examples: Seanan McGuire, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter taught me that there is power in the deceptively simple language of fairy tales, beauty and terror as well. Speaking of terror, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Paul Tremblay, Gabino Iglesias, Chuck Wendig, and countless others taught me that words can be deployed like a scalpel or a bludgeon, and that both will keep you up at night. Joe Lansdale, and Elmore Leonard before him, taught me that in the right hands, dialogue can sing or sting or make you erupt in laughter. In fact, it can carry a story all on its own. From Joe Abercrombie, and Joe Lansdale again, I learned that violence in general, and fight scenes in particular, whether hand to hand combat or clashing armies, can have a visceral, kinetic energy that carries the reader along. From authors as diverse as R.A. Lafferty, Ray Bradbury, Alix E. Harrow, V.E. Schwab, and Tamsyn Muir, I learned that language can be transfixing, breathtaking, even transformative.
I could go on and on. Great writers not only teach me, but give me something to aspire to. I’m not there yet, not even close, but I know in my heart that reading will make me a better writer. That’s the best advice I can give.