I fell in love with books from the moment I learned how to spell. Reading was one of my favorite past-times during childhood. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Stanislaw Lem, and so many others. I just loved their work.
At the time, I couldn’t tell exactly why I loved it. It was something that came from withing, from inside of me. It was as if I was caught in a net and thrown in a new world, a world of make-belief where everything was possible. It was a great time.
Since then, I’ve never stopped reading, but as time went by, I left some of those old books to catch dust on the shelves. Some of them got damaged or lost, or lent to people who think lending is gifting. Some disappeared during moves, or house reorganizations. But none of them left my head.
Years later, when I started to study the craft of writing I found myself immersed in a sea of non-fiction books. I had to. Imagination is not enough to write something that people would want to read. So I read those books cover to cover, some of them a few times. I made notes, I attended seminars, workshops, and conferences. I joined a writing group. All good steps. My writing improved.
Then, one day, I had this crazy idea: I wanted to read Dune again. (For those of you who haven’t read Dune by Frank Herbert, please close your reading device right now and head on to your local bookstore. You can’t waste another day without reading that book.) Anyway, I read this book again and I had a shock. The book was ten times better than the first time around.
Why? Because now I was reading it with writer’s eyes. I was reading it with the theoretical knowledge about the elements of fiction. As I was reading it, I was able to pinpoint almost every bit of advice that those non-fiction books taught me. I discovered all those things the workshop teachers were talking about. They were all there, in front of my eyes.
So, I continued. I re-read Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Le Guin, Jordan. I went to all the greats in the genres that I love. With my new knowledge, those stories got new meanings. Not the stories themselves; those were still the same. But the way it was presented now became obvious. Now I started to understand why I liked them so much when I was young. Because these writers were masters who already knew how to put the theory into practice. By reading them again and paying attention to the writing, I was able to draw a direct line between that theory and practice.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King said: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” […] “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
So, here is my advice, based on my personal epiphany: Just because you read some books in the past, doesn’t mean you should forget about them and just put a check-mark in your list. As you develop your writing skills go back to the works that moved you. Go back to those novels and short stories that had an impact on you. Remember those characters that you so badly wanted to be when you were a child? Find those books. Read them again with new eyes: not with the eyes of a reader who wants to be entertained, but with the eyes of a writer who wants to learn how to entertain others.
If you do this, I guarantee your skill will improve exponentially and you will soon become a better writer!
All the best,