My goal for this series of blog posts is for writers to save themselves a lot of time and frustration. This series is meant to get you on the path toward publication, provided you put in the work of writing and revising. Don't worry if you don't follow all these recommendations--who could? I'll be the first to admit that even I'm guilty of sometimes not using my time wisely--look for my tip on social media! But overall this series contains hard-won truths on how to make writing a bigger part of your life. I hope it clarifies the publishing guidelines, professional etiquette, and protocols you may have been unsure about in the past. More than anything, I hope it puts you on track toward opportunities you may not have imagined.
I'm hoping this is something all aspiring writers know. It was Stephen King who famously said, "If you don't make time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." And I think this is true. If you want to write, then you have to read.
I'm convinced that through reading widely we internalize the architecture of how stories are told. We subconsciously sense when a good story is being told to us, and the opposite is also true: we understand when a story is not being told well. Our attention lags, we get bored, we move onto something else. Reading helps to fine-tune our own good taste in books. Reading teaches us how to be good writers.
Reading is especially crucial for an aspiring writer. Why? Because you need to have a solid grounding in narrative whether you're working on a novel or on a poem. The ability to conceive of a narrative and to properly execute a narrative is transformative: it's a skill that enables us to create something artistic, imbued with the qualities that are characteristic of great art. The more skillful a writer becomes, the more thought-provoking and resonant their work becomes.
When I was in college I was fed a steady diet of classical literature -British Literature, American Literature, and Southern Literature, to be specific. It was only as an MFA student that I began to read more contemporary works. I discovered that I loved the work of writers like Alain de Botton, Nick Hornby, Julianna Baggott, Anne Carson, Steve Almond, and Augusten Burroughs.
It was exposing myself to books that were currently being written that spurred me to begin attempting long-form narratives (personal essays, narratives, longer short stories). I loved the hilarity of Steve Almond when writing about candy. I loved the way Nick Hornby captured the essence of how music saves us in High Fidelity. These reading experiences were so enjoyable and so satisfying that I was inspired to find ways to echo what I loved in those books in my own work.
So reading widely is beneficial for many reasons. In reading we come across ideas, places, and people who transform our way of thinking. We reconsider habitual modes of thinking and over the course of years writers learn to recognize the good, well-told narratives from the less successful ones.
Tasha Cotter, @TashCotter, is a poet and fiction writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and the full-length collection, Some Churches (Gold Wake Press, 2013). You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com.