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Advice for writers

What to Read to Become a Better Writer

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Fuel Your Writing Fire: Must-Reads for Aspiring Authors

Whether you’re a seasoned author or a fresh-faced newcomer, the journey of writing is an ever-evolving adventure. One of the best ways to become a better writer, navigate this landscape, and level up your skills is to read; the following suggestions are works that both offer direct instruction and showcase masterful storytelling. So, grab your notebook and be inspired!

What to Read to Become a Better Writer

Instructional Treasures

On Writing by Stephen King: The iconic horror maestro pulls back the curtain on his creative process, offering invaluable insights on character development, plot structure, and overcoming writer’s block.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: This warm and witty guide encourages writers to embrace imperfection and find joy in the writing process. Lamott’s down-to-earth advice will have you nodding in agreement and laughing out loud; read even just one passage and you will become a better writer.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon: Kleon argues that creativity thrives on inspiration, not originality. This book is a treasure trove of tips on how to avoid creative burnout and find inspiration in the work of others.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White: This timeless classic offers clear and concise guidance on grammar, punctuation, and style. A must-read for every writer’s bookshelf.

Save the Cat! Writes for Writers by Jessica Brody: Based on the popular screenwriting technique, this book provides practical strategies for crafting compelling narratives and engaging characters.

Masterful Storytellers

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: Immerse yourself in the magical world of Macondo, where reality and fantasy intertwine. Márquez’s lyrical prose and captivating storytelling are sure to leave a lasting impression.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel offers a poignant exploration of racial prejudice and childhood innocence. Lee’s masterful character development and evocative storytelling make this a timeless classic.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien: Embark on an epic journey through Middle-earth, where hobbits, elves, and dwarves fight against the forces of evil. Tolkien’s world-building and storytelling prowess are unmatched.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: This Booker Prize-winning novel explores themes of memory, loss, and class through the eyes of a loyal butler. Ishiguro’s elegant prose and nuanced character development will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: This dystopian novel paints a chilling picture of a future where women are subjugated and controlled. Atwood’s chilling prose and timely themes make this a must-read for anyone interested in social commentary and powerful storytelling.

Deep Dive into Your Genre

Beyond the invaluable insights offered by instructional books and the inspiration found in masterfully written stories, there’s another crucial aspect of reading for aspiring authors: deep diving into the specific genre you want to write in. It goes without saying: if you want to become a better fantasy writer, read more fantasy!

Think of it as an apprenticeship. By immersing yourself in the works of successful authors in your chosen genre, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of its conventions, tropes, and reader expectations. This knowledge will prove invaluable when crafting your own stories within that genre.

Here’s how to approach this focused reading:

1. Identify your target genre: Be specific about the type of story you want to tell. Are you aiming for a heart-pounding thriller, a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy, or a poignant coming-of-age tale?

2. Research the genre: Get a good grasp of the genre’s history, key subgenres, and popular tropes. Explore online resources, genre-specific blogs, and interviews with successful authors.

3. Build a reading list: Compile a list of highly-regarded books within your chosen genre. Read award-winners, bestsellers, and especially works by authors you admire; those will best inspire you to become a better writer.

4. Go beyond the bestsellers: While popular books offer valuable insights, don’t neglect lesser-known gems. Explore independent authors, translated works, and books with unique approaches to the genre.

5. Read critically: As you read, analyze the author’s craft. How do they build suspense, develop characters, and create a sense of place? Pay attention to their use of language, pacing, and narrative structure.

6. Compare and contrast: Read multiple books within the same genre to identify commonalities and differences in style, plot, and character development. This will help you understand what works well and what might be missing in the genre landscape.

7. Identify your voice: While learning from other authors, don’t lose sight of your own unique voice. What makes your writing different? How will you add your own creative twist to the familiar tropes of your chosen genre?

By actively engaging with books in your target genre, you’ll not only acquire valuable knowledge and inspiration but also develop your own distinct style within that literary landscape. Remember, reading is a continuous journey, so keep exploring, experimenting, and refining your craft to become a master storyteller within your chosen genre.

Harnessing the Wisdom

So, how do you effectively absorb the knowledge and inspiration gleaned from the books that inspire you? Here are some tips:

Take notes: As you read, jot down key insights, quotes that resonate with you, and techniques you want to try.

Analyze what works: Pay attention to how the author uses language, develops characters, and structures their narrative. Ask yourself what makes their writing effective.

Experiment: Try applying the techniques you learn to your own writing. Practice is key to honing your craft.

Join a writing group: Discussing your work with other writers can be a valuable way to get feedback and share ideas.

Remember, reading is not just passive consumption. It’s an active dialogue between you and the author. By engaging with the text and reflecting on what you learn, you can unlock new creative possibilities and become a more confident writer. So, keep reading, keep learning, and keep writing!

Bonus Tip: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and read books in different genres. You might discover new authors and writing styles that inspire you in unexpected ways.

EKB author photo 1

Erin K. Larson-Burnett, Production Manager at Atmosphere Press (submit your manuscript here!), is a born-and-raised Southerner currently living in Katy, Texas, with her husband and their small domestic zoo. She is an avid ink drinker who lives and breathes books—during the day, she works remotely with authors around the world, honing and perfecting books published through Atmosphere Press. By night, she crafts her own stories…or at least tries to. The Bear & the Rose is her debut novel.

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