The main character in my latest book, The Parent Problem, is a massive bookworm. She is also a budding writer. No coincidence there. The more you read, the better you will become at writing. Don’t just take it from me:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write – Stephen King

I have posted before about the importance of reading if you want to be a writer, but I feel the need to do it again. Perhaps this is because The Parent Problem has been chosen as one of the recommended titles for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, otherwise known as The Big Friendly Read (take a look at this list to see the full line-up of recommended reads).

9781509801312 Parent Problem Low Res

Or maybe it’s because I am once again involved in the Bradford-on-Avon Mini Book Festival  in July, which is all about promoting reading.

Or it might just be because I find time and again that the link between reading and writing is extremely important to me. The more I read, the more I want to write. And the more I read, the more ideas I have, too. That doesn’t mean that I copy other people’s ideas; it’s just that the weird and wonderful magic of having other people’s stories in my head seems to feed into my own creativity. I am not the only writer to experience this. Neil Gaiman said that as a child he started writing by ‘kidnapping’ his favourite authors:

I got to kidnap all of the authors whose work I liked, living and dead […] I got to lock them in an enormous castle and make them collaborate on these huge-plot books. And I would tell them what the plots were.

I have been thinking about this a lot during the recent craziness over SATs. There is so much focus now on ‘how to write proper English’ that I am worried we have forgotten the most important thing of all:

IT SHOULD BE FUN!

It should be just as much fun as reading.

Imagine if you sat down to read and, instead of letting yourself get carried away with the action and what the characters were thinking, saying and feeling, you had to start by asking yourself if the author had used subordinating conjunctions, prepositions and parallel constructions. Imagine having to pull apart each sentence to check that it was written ‘correctly’ before you were allowed to immerse yourself in the story. Imagine having to understand the grammatical term for the way each phrase, word and sentence has been constructed before you were able to understand the sense of the story itself.

URGH!

It would be hideous. It would be deeply unpleasant. It would be BORING.

It seems to me that this is what is happening to writing stories in school time. It has become a tedious exercise in putting the ‘right’ words in the ‘correct’ order on the page.

NO REAL LIFE WRITER THINKS LIKE THIS.

We writers like to play with language. We like to put CAPITAL LETTERS in the middle of a sentence. And sometimes we like to start sentences with ‘and’. Sometimes we don’t write ‘proper’ sentences at all. Because. It’s. Fun. To. Play. Sometimes we say ‘sometimes’ a lot.

If you read lots and lots you will see how writers play – how they bring stories alive, how the words bounce off the page into your own imagination. You see the fun the writers are having, you see how they are doing it, and then when you go to write, you know how a story works. You know what makes you want to read on as a reader, so you know how to do this for your own readers. You have a go at copying the shape of someone else’s story; playing around with language and punctuation in the same way your favourite author does; making your own words bounce off the page into someone else’s head.

As I have said before, if you want to be a writer, you have to be a READER first. Maybe start this summer with The Big Friendly Read. Go to your local library and sign up for the reading challenge. There’s so much to choose from: there are funny, scary, sad, romantic, poetic, factual, illustrated books and short stories and picture books. There is something for everyone. You never know, reading some of these might then inspire you to go ahead and write your own story.

If you live in the Bradford-on-Avon area and would like some tips on how to write, come along to the Bradford-on-Avon Mini Book Festival on 15th and 16th July in the town library and join in with activities and workshops. It would be great to see you there.

In the meantime, whatever you do, don’t forget to HAVE FUN!

 

 

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