Friday, June 8, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Readin’, Writin’, and . . .

. . . more readin’ and writin’. Periodically, we are reminded that we must be readers if we want to be good writers. Is this true? What do you think?

• What inspired you to write in the first place? Was it a really good book? Was it a story you knew you could write better?

• What do you learn from reading another author’s works? Do you recognize that writer’s distinctive style? Can you find his or her voice?

• Does reading a good book make you want to sit down and write? Whether yes or no, why?

• Who is your favorite author? Why? What do that author’s works teach you about great writing?

• What is your genre? Why did you choose to write in that one? Do you read books in your genre? in other genres?

• Do you have a message you want to convey to your readers when you sit down to write? How do you incorporate it into your story without being preachy? How do the authors whose works you read do it?

Writing is so much more than committing words to paper, and the effectiveness of that writing often depends—particularly in the beginning—on our being good readers. We know what makes a book great in our eyes, so every book we read as writers becomes a textbook. Without conscious thought, we note structure, assess dialogue, evaluate details, critique flow, and otherwise appraise it from cover to cover. We discover what makes a story “work,” as well as what keeps it from working. This is a critical step in learning our craft.

We can all benefit from the insights and experiences of others, so please share your thoughts on and your answers to the questions above.


Linda Lane heads a team of editors and other experts who help writers traverse the maze from concept to creation to cash in hand. Check out her website at

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  1. Nice post, Linda, and some terrific questions. Your question about whether reading a good book makes you want to write made me smile. I just finished reading A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve and it did make me want to write. I would love to be able to use words with the same magic she does.

    What I realized after that surge of ecstasy gave way to reason is that I should not strive to write like she does. That is her style and her voice. I just need to hone my own style and my own voice.

    I couldn't help but think of the advice a friend gave me many moons ago. I admired her for her poise, her intellect, her ability to operate in the corporate world at a high level and told her once that I would love to be more like her. She stopped me short and said, "Don't ever want to be somebody else. Just be the best Maryann Miller you can be."

    That has stayed with me all these years.

  2. I'll think about these some more. One of my favorite writers for good dialogue that moves the plot while characterizing is Daphne Du Maurier. She was brilliant!

  3. I was surprised when one of my friends showed me an old mimeographed paper from high school in which I'd written a short story I didn't even remember writing! Anyway, I didn't really get bitten by the writing bug until after a presentation by our local Chicago-North RWA chapter at my library. Since then I became a member, learned the craft, and got published! Of course, the learning never ends.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. Writing is a natural choice for me. Many years of theater and storytelling have made writing and singing the obvious outlet for my creativity. When it hits... :P

  5. What great advice your friend gave you! Being the best writer you can be, in your own style and your own voice, will distinguish you as an author in your own right, never as a copycat.

    My inspiration to write my first novel came when an author whose books I had enjoyed suddenly began writing explicit sex scenes. Instead of finishing her story, I decided to write a book that would keep the reader engaged without the scenes that made me uncomfortable. My first effort took five years to complete and didn't match the writing quality of the offending author. However, my understanding of what is required to write a good book has improved significantly since then — and I am continuing to learn. Now I am quite grateful to that lady who inspired me to embark on a serious writing career.

  6. We learn from the best, Dani, because they've left us a wealth of great examples of how to do it. It doesn't get any better than that.

  7. You're so right, Morgan, that the learning never ends.

    Did you get a copy of that high school paper? That would be really cool to keep.

    I started writing poetry in elementary school. My dad found some of my original stuff decades later and gave it to me. That was so special because I'd virtually stopped writing during my child-raising years and didn't take it up again until my grandchildren were old enough to have children. Now it's full speed ahead.

  8. The theatre should be a great inspiration, I would think, Silfert. How wonderful to be able to both write and sing! I always wanted to sing, but people leave the room when I break into song. Seems that my career will be limited to writing.

  9. I'm popping in late on this great bunch of questions, Linda. I read less than I'd like--inevitable time constraints--and it's very selective: the works of close colleagues, a handful of favorite obscure authors, and the occasional purposeless romp. I also find myself inspired by movies. Screenwriting is a completely different art form, but the overlap helps keep me fresh on technique. While there are many writers whose prose I admire, I have never felt the need to try and emulate; I do have a voice and, for better or ill, it's what I use.

    As to your last question, I don't so much have a message, as an agenda. I want my readers to think. My novels raise provocative questions on substantial issues without necessarily giving answers. The fact that reviewers have picked up on this aspect of my writing is reassuring.

  10. I took a writing class sometime between college and getting my teaching credential. The teacher told me I needed to seek publication for my work, but I didn't do anything about it. Then my grandfather died and I quit writing, although I don't think the two were related.

    Two years ago, after a long chat with my cousin, I began writing again. Now I know for certain that I want to be writer. I read constantly, both for pleasure and for education. I don't just read to better my writing skills, though. I read to better my life skills, from building a platform to getting published and everything in between.

  11. Larry, you use the word "agenda," and I've been known to say "soapbox" -- albeit (I hope) a subtle one. I, too, want my readers to glean something of value from my stories, something they can learn or use or that will have a positive effect on their lives.

  12. Good for you, Girlseeksplace! And even though you aren't reading to enhance your own skills, you are, even if by default, seeing how other writers make words work.

    I wish you much success in your writing career. :-)

  13. A quick reading/writing story: After reading "On Mystic Lake" by Kristin Hannah I noticed weird parallels to a story I'd been writing (a mute child, a quirky character name). I realized this was the kind of book I wanted to write so I analyzed and outlined the whole thing in a spiral notebook: how it pulled you in, what happened in each chapter, where major problems and characters were introduced. It was a great exercise!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.