I’m sure most writers have experienced this: You mention to someone that you’re writing a novel. They reply, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about writing a book. I have some really great ideas.”
My most recent experience with this came from a distant relative who wanted to write a non-fiction history book. When I asked if he read much in the genre, he replied, “No.” When I asked if he’d looked at the online platforms of other writers in the genre, I was met with a blank stare.
What it boils down to is he had lots of enthusiasm for his own ideas, but had done nothing to educate himself on current writing trends or the opinions of others. He was writing from a void. That’s no way to succeed in the business of publishing these days.
In order to find success, whether in fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, screenwriting or short stories, you have to feed your writer-brain.
What exactly does that mean?
Well, first and foremost, it means you need to read. You need read a lot. Fill your spare moments with a good book or a good article. Read a variety of genres, and once you focus in on the genre you want to try writing, narrow your reading, too. Read what’s popular and critically acclaimed in your genre. Read old favorites from the genre, and take a chance on first time authors. If you don’t know the marketplace, you’ll have a hard time finding a place in it for your own work. Whether you follow the traditional agent/editor/publishing house route, or aim for self-publishing, filling your writer-brain with knowledge of the marketplace is going to give you a huge boost.
Additionally, reading will help you internalize good technique. If you get used to reading good dialog, you’ll be more aware of when your own dialog is falling flat. If you find some authors who write amazing sensory description, you can learn from them to improve your own. And don’t give up reading outside your genre – sometimes you can learn tricks of technique from authors outside your genre that will help your writing stand out from the pack when it comes to your own genre. Plus, you never know what might spark a moment of inspiration that leads to a new story, even if it’s just a random article or a non-fiction book you picked up on a lark.
If you like to multitask while doing household work or exercise, like I do, you can feed your writer-brain by listening to audiobooks or watching the types of films and television shows that feature interesting plotting, fascinating characters, or quality writing. Usually stick to scripted works – ones that writers worked hard to bring to life. You can generally learn more from those shows than from “reality” television. Unless “reality” tv or news programs are the ones that spark your creativity.
Ultimately, you need to learn what feeds your writer-brain best. Seek out that brain-food, and consume it as often as possible.
In an era in which information and entertainment is just a few keystrokes away, you can’t expect to write in a void and succeed.
Don’t think of all this reading as time taken away from your writing. That writer-brain needs nourishment and inspiration to do its work properly, and this is how you feed it.
By Jocelyn Nash Carlin