I am an avid reader. Literary, historical fiction and fantasy are the books most often found stacked on my bedside table, but when I first started this novel writing project, I set those aside and immersed myself in books on a new genre, “how to write fiction.” Those books have been interesting and helpful but after completing three of them, I needed a break. Last week, I took one and picked up a really great novel, The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff. I loved it, and the entire time I was reading I kept thinking about why I was enjoying it so much. I don’t usually spend much time reflecting while I read – I just enjoy the story and move on to the next one. But for this novel, I kept asking myself why I was staying up until midnight, knowing that my alarm would go off at 5:00 am, to read this book? What was making this novel so compelling to me? What made one character sympathetic, another likeable, and another truly evil? How did the author create suspense and tension? And on and on. I’ve never thought quite so much about why I enjoyed a novel during the reading process, and this reflection is due, without a doubt, to my recent writing adventure.
I also realized that I was doing what many authors of “how to write” books do. They use their favorite novels as examples which they then break down for the reader. While some of their points are helpful, I realized that I can actually do this all by myself. I guess that English degree is useful for something!
I’ve decided that even though my time is at a premium, continuing to read fiction as I journey down this writing road is crucial. If I plan to write for others, I must know what I like and why I like it. Sure I can find the answers to these questions in “how-to” books, but I think I can also find them within myself if I continue to read and reflect on it. This is good news!! When I get sucked into a great book that I can’t put down, I can rest, knowing that I am actually “working” on my novel. Right?!?