Seven Important Reasons Why Writers Should Also Be Readers

The Mayor

After I left university, I worked as a secretary for a mayor for a while. He had a policy of only hiring people who were university graduates – preferably those with an Arts Degree. He was not an intellectual snob; he was simply an astute politician and businessman. He knew that they were survivors who had found a way to think for themselves in a tough environment. (Yes, contrary to what you may believe, university is not easy.) 

At the root of his philosophy, whether he realised it or not, was the fact that these people had a lifetime of reading behind them. Confucius understood this. He said, ‘No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.’ 

The Students Without Books

When I first thought about writing, it was because I loved to read. When I started teaching Writers Write, it came as a shock that some people who wanted to write books did not want to read them. This does not make sense. It is like an aspiring cricket player who knows nothing about the sport, and who does not like watching the game, arriving at team trials. 

Stephen King says, ‘If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ Reading makes you think and it teaches you how to write. 

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Seven Important Reasons Why Writers Should Also Be Readers 

  1. Educate Yourself. I can look at an email and tell if a person spends time reading. If you want to be intelligent, you have to expose your mind to intelligent thoughts and complicated ideas. The best way to do this is by reading novels as well as non-fiction. If you can follow and enjoy a carefully crafted story, you will remember things you read in that book for the rest of your life. If you only read non-fiction, your writing becomes as sterile and dry and boring as the subject matter you consume.
  2. Develop Communication Skills. The best way to learn how to communicate is by reading books that move you. You will absorb the words that link into sentences that create paragraphs and chapters and meaning. The more you read, the more easily you will be able to call on this skill. It will improve your blogging, social media posts, business writing and creative writing techniques. Reading gives you the chance to see what works and–more importantly–what doesn’t. ‘The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one's papers and identification pretty much in order,’ says Stephen King.
  3. Empathise. Reading gives you ways to inhabit other worlds and other lives without leaving home. If you are reading a good book, you will see, hear, taste, smell and touch everything a character does. You will vicariously experience joy and sorrow. Reading allows you to observe the emotional development of a character, how he or she faces adversity and resolves problems. You are going to have to do this when you write. Learn from good writers. James Baldwin wrote, ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.
  4. Find Inspiration. There is nothing like reading a brilliant book to get you motivated to write. Sometimes, reading a bad book is good too. It will make you think that you can do better than that. ‘Read! Read! Read! And then read some more. When you find something that thrills you, take it apart paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, to see what made it so wonderful. Then use those tricks the next time you write,’ says W.P. Kinsella
  5. Support Other Writers. This seems obvious. If you want people to read and buy your books, it seems like a good idea to support the industry from which you would like to make a living. ‘Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them,’ says Lemony Snicket.
  6. Stimulate Your Brain. Reading exercises the most important organ in our bodies. It helps improve our memory and if we learn something new every day, we become more interesting. Studies have shown that reading fiction improves analytical thinking and enhances problem-solving skills. Lose yourself in fictional stories and give your brain an enjoyable workout. Sherman Alexie says, ‘If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.
  7. Relax. Most writers have brains that never stop. We worry. We think. We plot. We plan. We obsess. When you read, your mind is forced to focus, the tension drops away as you get involved in a story. Always read books you enjoy. If you don’t like a book, stop reading it. Start another one. Life is too short to read bad books. 

Writers also love talking about the books they read and it follows that they should not be in a relationship with people who don’t read, or who only read non-fiction. We should heed those wise words of John Waters: 'If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.’ Ignore this advice at your own peril. 

I hope these reasons inspire you to read. 

© Amanda Patterson

 by Amanda Patterson. Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Her signature courses are Writers WriteThe Plain Language Programme, and The Social Brand. Follow her on PinterestFacebookGoogle+Tumblr and Twitter.  

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

Writers Write - Write to communicate

That Sentimental Feeling—emotion can serve or destroy a story

One of the mistakes we make as writers is confusing sentimental writing with emotional writing.  The former is decorating the proverbial chocolate box; the latter is discovering that someone ate the last chocolate in the box.

We want readers to empathise with our characters and their situation. We want to create that emotional connection between character, narrative and reader. That connection must be so strong and immediate that the readers see themselves in the character’s life as it plays out on the page.

Find a specific character’s truth

Emotion must serve the story and the character. It should never be an attempt to manipulate a response from your reader.

For me, mawkish or flowery writing weakens that bond and diffuses the energy of a scene. It seems to try too hard by overstating the emotions, rather than digging deeper - to the character, their environment and conflict.

Don’t cry for me, dear reader

Let’s take a scene where a woman is crying over a break-up as an example. The tears streamed down Nina’s cheeks as she buried her face in her pillow. She clutched the picture of her and Grant as three years of memories washed over her.  We want to show Nina is upset, show her heartbreak, but we’re really just showing the front of that chocolate box, aren’t we?

OK, let’s try to make real rather than sentimental. Nina’s throat hurt as she swallowed. She tried to breathe through the raw crush in her chest. If she let it out now, she wouldn’t be able to stop. Maybe this isn’t great, but at least we’re inside the empty chocolate box – we’re much closer to the character.

A dose of realism, please

Maybe we want to show a father’s love for his children. Brett watched their sweet, happy faces as they ran towards him on the beach – Sam and Nicky, the two angels Carol had blessed him with.  Now the chocolate box has become a TV life insurance commercial. And anyone who has had kids would never describe them as angelic all the time.

Let’s try it again and make it something specific to this father’s viewpoint. Sam had melted ice cream and half the beach clinging to her ruddy face. She always dawdled behind her older sister. ‘Hurry up,’ Nicky called back to her. Nicky was like him – she liked to lead and that made her bossy. Sam was more like Carol–she could get lost in her own world for hours. The burden of the long hours at the office got a little bit lighter–it always did when he saw his girls.

From the inside out

Maybe overly sentimental writing is a personal bugbear, but I think to make our writing more powerful, we must make them believable. Don’t recite the emotions you want to impose on the reader. Write a character undergoing these emotions from the inside out.

 by Anthony Ehlers

(If you enjoyed this post, you will love The Night Shift — How five famous authors found the time to write.)

Anthony has facilitated courses for Writers Write since 2007. Published both locally and internationally, he was twice a runner-up in the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa short story competition. In 2013, his crime short story was included in Bloody Satisfied, an anthology sponsored by the National Arts Festival SA. As a scriptwriter, he has written three television features. In 2014, his short films were short-listed for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. Follow Anthony on Twitter and Facebook.

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

Writers Write - Write to communicate

A little something on the side…

How multiple writing projects can get you out of a repetitive writing rut. 

Some of us write for fun. Some of us write for pay. Some of us write, because it keeps the cost of prescription medication at bay. Whatever the reason, we write.

I used to write a lot of body copy, the bit that goes at the bottom of an ad. It usually included terms and conditions and a blurb about the company or product. After a while, everything I wrote turned into body copy. I could say everything I wanted to in three to five lines and end it with a pay off line. You could almost hear the jingle in the background.

I once taught an ex-journalist who had the similar problem. After a few years of writing a weekly, 750-word column she found it difficult to write more. She would write a piece, be it a short story or a writing prompt and end on exactly 750 words.

Not all habits are good.

Writing becomes a habit and that is a good thing. But we should guard against falling into a rut. If you write press releases or reports I am sure you will find yourself following a set pattern and ending with a similar result each time. That is great for business writing and saves time, but for a creative writer it becomes dangerous.

I looked through my writing practice journals and noticed that my pieces are almost all the same length, using the same viewpoint, similar settings and structure. These are timed sessions, so obviously I write a certain number words in that time, but am I challenging myself? Has the habit become just that, a habit? Something I do blindly - without thought? 

What can I do to change that?

Multiple projects can help. Don’t write only one thing. Try writing a new short story. Identify your go-to style and structure and turn it on its head. Try writing a screenplay or scripting a radio drama.  This will help you to think about visuals and sounds.

My writing practice obviously needs an overhaul. I will check to see whatever I did the previous day and makes sure to do something different. I will change the word count, try new settings and vary the viewpoints.

Find ways to write different pieces. Challenge yourself to write something you have never written before. A project on the side might be just what you need.   

What writing rut have you fallen into?

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love How Seven Famous Writers Cope With Their Fear Of The Blank Page and Dealing with Deadlines.

Mia Botha facilitates for Writers Write. She is also a novelist, a ghost writer, and the winner of the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa Competition. When she isn’t writing, she is the mother of two children and the wife of a very lucky man. Follow Mia on Pinterest and Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate

    Psychopath or Sociopath - What's the difference?

    Imagine not having a conscience. 

    You would have no feelings of guilt, regret, shame or remorse. You would not be concerned about the well-being of anyone, including family members, strangers, and co-workers. The concept of being responsible for your actions does not make sense to you. You could do anything and feel nothing. 

    Jessica Page Morrell, author of Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, says, 'Sociopaths have ice in their veins and, like the Grinch, possess hearts much too small.' 

    As writers, we often use sociopaths or psychopaths as antagonists in our novels. Here are some examples:
    1. Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
    2. The Jackal from The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
    3. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
    4. Cruela de Vil from 101 Dalmatians
    5. Tyler Durden from Fight Club by Chuck Palhniuk
    6. Casanova from Kiss the Girls by James Patterson
    7. Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
    8. The Joker from Batman
    9. Hannibal Lector from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
    So, we're used to having them around. But what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? 

    Both suffer from antisocial personality disorder and the definitions are largely interchangeable. This infographic from Psychologia explains key common traits and differences between psychopaths and sociopaths and includes some statistical data. Although the prognosis is unfavourable for both, a sociopath is more likely to respond to therapy than a psychopath is.


    UPDATE: “Both suffer from antisocial personality disorder” is in accordance with the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) 2013 release where psychopathy and sociopathy are both listed under antisocial personality disorders (ASPD).

    If you enjoyed this post, you will want to read:
    You may also enjoy Shades of Emotion - Characters and their emotions, and Writing About Characters With Phobias

    Join us for Writers Write - How to write a book - and make sure you're creating a compelling crazy villain.

     by Amanda Patterson. Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Her signature courses are Writers WriteThe Plain Language Programme, and The Social Brand. Follow her on PinterestFacebookGoogle+Tumblr and Twitter.  

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate

    19 Examples of Redundancy

    What is Redundancy?

    Redundancy in the needless repetition of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs or ideas.

    We found this useful resource on Speak Good English Movement's Facebook Page

    Join us for The Plain Language Programme if you want to improve your writing skills.

     by Amanda Patterson. Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Her signature courses are Writers WriteThe Plain Language Programme, and The Social Brand. Follow her on PinterestFacebookGoogle+Tumblr and Twitter.  

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate

    The Time-Saving Guide To 57 Microsoft Word Shortcuts

    Writers are often glued to their keyboards. However, most of us do not know that there are a lot of useful tools in Word that could save us time. These keyboard short cuts in this infographic from Edudemic will allow you to work more efficiently. 

    All 57 are  useful, but these are used most often:

    Ctrl +B = Bold
    Ctrl + I = Italic
    Ctrl + V = Paste
    Ctrl + A = Select all
    Ctrl + C = Copy
    Ctrl + Y = Redo the last action you performed
    Ctrl + Z = Undo the last action you performed
    Ctrl + Del = Delete the word to the right of the cursor
    Ctrl + S = Save

    Source: Edudemic

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate

    The Elements of a Story - Basically Speaking

    The Elements of a Story - For Beginners

    Source for Poster: MPM 

    • Do you love to read and write? 
    • Would you like to see your words published? 
    • Do you want to explore the world of writing, but you aren’t quite sure where to start?

    If you join us for Writers Write, you will find out if writing is something you want to pursue. You may be a complete novice or you may already have some writing experience. It does not matter. We believe we have a writing course that will suit your needs.

    Send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information on this course.

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate

    The Two Types Of Inciting Moments

    Every problem has a moment – a beginning point – where everything changes. Your world is off balance. You are acutely aware that something is different. You can feel it, taste it, see it, smell it. You can no longer ignore it, if that was your coping mechanism. In hindsight, it is easy to identify. If you were recounting the story to a friend, this is where you would begin.

    Every problem also has a solution. The solution is usually a process you have to go through to solve the crisis. To solve a problem you need to make a decision about what you are going to do next. You need a goal. Whether or not you reach your goal, or find another solution, is part of the journey.

    The stories we write are no different to the problems we face in real life. Something happens that changes your character’s life. The inciting moment in real life or fiction is about change that leads to conflict, or conflict that leads to change.

    This moment is interesting and important enough to create a response in you or your protagonist. It makes you act. 

    We don’t want you or your protagonist to wallow in victim mode, frozen in your inability to react. We don’t want you to be passive or indifferent. We want to find out how you solved the problem, what you faced, how you felt, and what you learnt about yourself.

    There are two types of inciting moments:

    Major – nothing is ever the same again: This inciting moment is external and can be immediately linked to the main plot. For example:

    1. An antagonist kidnaps your protagonist’s child who is waiting for a tardy parent.
    2. A sniper kills an important politician who is being guarded by your protagonist.
    3. A husband walks in on his wife who is having sex with another man.
    4. A man is told that he is terminally ill and has a few weeks to live.
    5. A teenage girl’s parents are killed. The killers tell her that she is really the heir to a fantasy kingdom and they plan to use her as leverage in a war.

    This type of inciting moment involves immediate major conflict, action, change and a reaction from a reasonable protagonist.

    Or we can go back a few scenes and start the stories here:

    Minor – a glimpse into the ordinary world before the change: This inciting moment can begin earlier. It is either internal or external, and shows us more about the characters. In older books and archaic storytelling, more time was given to this setting up of the protagonist’s ‘ordinary world’. If you want to go this route, make sure you keep it short and make sure it is important. For example:

    1. A protagonist almost has a car accident because she is distracted. She ends up being late to pick up her child.
    2. A bodyguard can’t sleep. He is having a crisis. His girlfriend has left him, his father is ill, and he wonders if he is still good enough to do his job.
    3. A man’s business flight is cancelled. Annoyed, the workaholic decides to go home and do some work from home. It’s closer to the airport.
    4. A man is fighting with his wife because her mother is interfering in their marriage. He walks out, late for a doctor’s appointment.
    5. A teenage girl is bullied by other children her age. She has always felt as if she does not belong and wishes that a dragon would spirit her away.

    This type of inciting moment involves a slower beginning with a minor conflict (bearing in mind this is relative to the storyline). This gives you a chance to get to know the characters, but don’t go back further than this. The major inciting moment must occur soon after this.

    Why does it matter?

    The inciting moment is vital because it gives your protagonist a story goal. 

    It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as you get to the point sooner rather than later. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing the reader. Once the story has started, and I care about the character, I want to know what happens next. All your backstory can be woven into the rest of your story with dialogue, memories (don’t overdo these) and the occasional flashback (one per novel is plenty).

    Remember that the inciting moment is just the beginning. Everything should continue to change. Add conflict, suspense and action. Show how this changes your character until we reach the moment of crisis and ultimately a resolution.

    Did you solve your problem? Does he or she achieve his story goal? That is up to you.

    If you enjoyed this post, read Five guaranteed ways to bore your reader and The Importance of Inciting Moments

     by Amanda Patterson

    © Amanda Patterson
    Follow her on Facebook and Pinterest and Google+ and Tumblr and Twitter. Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Her signature courses are Writers WriteThe Plain Language Programme, and The Social Brand

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate

    The Night Shift — How five famous authors found the time to write


    Finding the time to write with a full-time job

    Most writers have a full-time career, children, family and social commitments. Where do you find time to work on your own stories? Let’s face it, only those at the top of the pyramid have the luxury and security of writing all day. The rest of us have to carve out time to write after hours. Here are five ideas to help you find a workable solution.

    1. Become a night owl. When she was starting out, Danielle Steel would make herself a cup of herbal tea, pin her hair up, set herself down in front of her vintage typewriter and hammer away at her manuscript. She’d usually start at 11pm and write in to the early hours of the morning.
    2. The early bird. Novelist Beryl Bainbridge would get up at five before her children and write with her notebook balanced on the washing machine as she did a load of laundry.
    3. Mark the change. Crime writer Patricia Highsmith would come home, have a bath and change into different clothes before she settled down to write her own stories. This little ritual helped her separate her working life with her rich creative interior world.
    4. Set a timed challenge. Prolific writer Anthony Trollope was also and early riser. He’d write between 5:30 and 8:30 and with his watch in front of him. He’d require himself to write 250 words every quarter of an hour.
    5. Make the most of days off. Stephen King famously admitted that he writes on Christmas Day. If you’re a compulsive writer, any day off is a great time to catch up on writing. Your imagination doesn’t know it’s a public holiday.

    The lesson here is that if you really want to finish a book or a screenplay, you will find a way to make it happen – even if it means you go with less sleep!

     by Anthony Ehlers

    (If you enjoyed this post, you will love Wants, Needs, Fears - The compelling triangle of motivation)

    Anthony has facilitated courses for Writers Write since 2007. Published both locally and internationally, he was twice a runner-up in the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa short story competition. In 2013, his crime short story was included in Bloody Satisfied, an anthology sponsored by the National Arts Festival SA. As a scriptwriter, he has written three television features. In 2014, his short films were short-listed for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. Follow Anthony on Twitter and Facebook.

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Writers Write - Write to communicate