There are two elements to becoming a better writer. They are supremely simple, so simple in fact that it can become tempting for the neophyte to seek more esoteric, unusual solutions on their long trek to writerly success.
It is with the sorrow of the penitent sinner that I admit to having neglected one of those two elements. The first is well-known to us all – to become a better writer you must write. I’ve been doing plenty of that these past two years. But the second element, often overlooked but just as important as the first, has been off my to-do list for too long. To become a better writer you must also read. Lots.
Now I love reading as much as the next writer wannabe, but I must confess to a drought of book consumption of late. I can ascribe a lot of this to University work. My reading hours have been wholly consumed by the need to go through ancient textbooks and dusty historical treatises. I’m trying to make it sound stereotypically boring and unpalatable, but truth is I actually enjoy a lot of the research I’m doing (presumably that’s the reason I’m at Uni). At the end of the day I have no excuse for not having read a work of fiction in around four months.
In town with my amigos, weathering the post-Christmas sales as best we could, I found myself browsing the familiar shelves of Waterstones. More books. Always more books. The most tragic part of my unreading affliction was surely the fact that, whilst I’d stopped reading, I’d continued to buy those shiny, beloved books. I’d assembled a small army of novels just waiting to be delved into. What was I doing here, contemplating buying yet more of the things? I wasn’t even going to read them.
And it was that realisation which triggered the stubborn ass lurking within all redheaded Scotsmen. I would read, and I would fecking enjoy it. I’d claw myself out of this unreading mire by my fingernails if I had to, a page at a time. I’d read, and by reading I’d jump-start my writerly growth once more.
Two books were plucked from the shelves and bought with a newly-proselytised zeal quite lost on my friends. The first was “Legion of the Damned” by Robert Sanders. I’d grown up engrossed in the grimdark SF setting of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe, and I knew I’d find the far future warfare contained within those slick covers suitably engrossing. The second purchase was “The Last Werewolf,” a random buy I was then delighted to discover had been published by the Edinburgh-based indy press Canongate Books – one which I’d intended to pitch to later in the year.
It’s been a week after my salvation and I’ve blasted through “Legion,” thoroughly enjoying every page. Another old 40k book that had fallen to the wayside has been swept down from the shelf and deposited into the rucksack for taking back to Uni. The lesson has been thoroughly learnt – if you want to become a better writer you just can’t ever, ever neglect the reading element. No matter what it is, as long as you read you’ll analyse (subconsciously or subconsciously) and as you absorb and enjoy so will your own writing grow and flourish.
So if you’re looking for writing tips, stop reading this and go grab a book!