If you are attempting to write (fiction or otherwise) and you are not an avid* reader, you are experiencing all sorts of problems. You are plagued with writer’s block, you have little energy for your writing, you lack visibility to the options available to construct a story (you are in and out of ruts), and you don’t understand how the reader and writer collaborate. You are a painter who never goes to an art museum. You are a music composer who doesn’t have an iTunes account.
I find myself reading many books that are not new. They’ve been out for years (or decades) and I am always trying to play catch-up. So, in an attempt to stay current in my reading I have made a commitment to try to read both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winning novels, as they are announced. One of the books I am reading is this year’s Pulitzer winner, “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. I am on page 242 of 771. What do I like about the book so far?
First of all it is an American novel. It doesn’t attempt to give the reader a dose of cultural awareness. (Nothing wrong with novels set in foreign lands, I’m just an American lit guy.) It is about a character, a boy, and the adverse reality that is thrust upon him, and how not taking action is action. So far, this book is all I wish for in a novel. The sense of place is strong and the characters carry the conflict forward at the right pace. Along the way you get insights into sailing, antique furniture restoration, and art history, as well as tidbits of French and Spanish – all of which give the story depth and texture.
So what’s the benefit to me as a writer?
Having my nose in this book keeps an example in front of me of how scenes can be filled with (the right) detail, the mechanics of how characters are described from the perspective of a unique protagonist, and a variety of examples of how transitions can work. I used to read purely for pleasure, for entertainment – which I still get. But I am also reading to become a better writer, for I am what I read, or don’t.
*Let’s define avid as having one book going all the time and spending at least a couple of hours a week reading it.