As a Writer, What Do You Read?


This is a rework of a post that I put up two years ago and it still stands today.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an avid reader as well as a writer. I tend to pick authors that I enjoy and read their entire body of work in chronological order. This not only brings me enjoyment, but it shows me their development as an author from their early to contemporary work.

One of my favorite authors is Stephen King. His early work is strong and definitely got stronger. When he suffered his accident and nearly died, his work suffered a bit after his recovery. He even threatened to retire, but thankfully, did not. I use him as an example because he also has one of my favorite quotes by an author:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

In the past eight months, I have written and published two novels and four short stories. I have also read somewhere around 20-25 books during that time. This may not sound unusual, but I also work 50-60 hours per week at my “day job”. How do I do this? Time management is one technique. Even though I work a lot of hours, I have a job where I travel to a destination early on Monday and return late on Thursday. There is a great deal of down time. Reading helps me to block out and reduce the stress of travel. It also makes flights pass by quickly. I often alternate reading and writing as I am on long flights. The writing depends upon my seating situation. If I am in a middle seat between to portly people, it is difficult to get out the laptop or tablet to write, so I resort to reading.

Before I started writing, reading was an escape. It was a way to de-stress from the pressures of my work and allowed me to relax and go to sleep. Since I have published my own work, it is also a way to assess other authors and look at their development as writers.

snoopy-reading

A prime example of this came to me through circumstance. A literary magazine reviewed my first book, Frankly Speaking, and compared my writing style to Elmore Leonard. I had heard the name and associated it with movies like “The Big Bounce” and “Get Shorty”, but I had never read any of Leonard’s work. I began reading from his very first novel, “The Bounty Hunters” which was published in 1953. It was a western, which took me by surprise. My book is a detective novel and I didn’t see the similarities. I’m not typically a reader of westerns, but stuck with Mr. Leonard. I noticed the lack of complex plots and well-developed characters in his early works. He also tended to end the novels abruptly without fleshing out the ending. Sixteen years and five novels later, he published “The Big Bounce”. It was his first non-western novel, but wasn’t really in the detective genre. I could, however, begin to see similarities in my use of dialog and narrative when compared to his work. I could also see his development as a writer over the 16 years.

An opposite example of this development would be in the work of James Patterson. I have read his work sporadically. I thoroughly enjoyed his early works, especially in the Alex Cross stories. His later work, however, is watered down. Most of his books these days (which seem to come out on a weekly basis) are “with” books. What I mean is that the cover will have James Patterson’s name in huge letters and then, somewhere at the bottom, there will be a line in smaller font that says “with …”. I have a feeling that the person whose name appears after the “with” is the actual writer and is writing books based on the James Patterson characters with his blessing (and substantial percentage of the profits). This is a phenomenon where a successful author has become a business and his books are like McDonalds franchise stores. I don’t read James Patterson books anymore.

My reading tends to be author and genre based. I read Harlan Coben, John D. MacDonald, and Jonathan Kellerman for the genre. I read Stephen King and Elmore Leonard for the writing style and enjoyment.  I read Hugh Howey’s books because he has hit on the formula and success that all self-published authors aspire to. I also read non-fiction books that help me with my craft. These range from books on self-publishing to works by other authors that give writing advice. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is one of the best that I have found. I use this as a reference book. Even if you don’t like King’s books, he gives great insight and a candid view into the mind of a writer. It is amazing, based on his youth, that he is alive, let alone a successful writer.

If you are, or aspire to be a self-published author, I recommend that you read books by your competition in your genre. You can learn a great deal from the successful authors and learn even more about what to avoid by reading authors that are not successful. You’ll marvel at the typos, grammatical errors, and other pitfalls that are the bane of self-publishing. You can read some of my other blogs to find ways how to rise above this.

Again, I go back to Stephen King’s quote and paraphrase. If you are not reading, you shouldn’t be writing. Find or make the time to do it. You can’t write in a vacuum and expect to be successful.

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32 thoughts on “As a Writer, What Do You Read?

  1. As a writer, I read a blend of non-fiction books on writing and often use them as references while going through the writing process. I also tend to read in the genres I happen to be writing in because like you said, this helps you hone your craft and see the writing style in that genre but also helps you see the pitfalls in your genre. Great post!

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  2. Publishing two novels in such a short time is quite an achievement! I am a little baffled and impressed by your ability to write that quickly and work so many hours every week. You seem like am exceptionally organized and driven person.

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  3. Good tip, Don! I agree about reading other authors’ work. I read extensively and write almost as much. I set a goal of 125 books to read this year on Goodreads and have surpassed my past two years’ goals. I find I learn more each time I read multi-genre books.

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  4. Besides being an avid reader, I’m also a reviewer and writer but every once in a while, I have to read something different just to free my mind when it gets wrapped up in a story I am writing. So I agree, you have to make time to read just as you have to make time write. Even re-reading an old favorite, you see errors in it that you skipped over in your mind while enjoying the story because as a writer, you notice them now.

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  5. My inspiration has always come from classics. I will randomly read a “modern” book(i.e., post-1950), but it’s rare. The classics are my inspiration, specifically Tolkien and Lewis and Poe. Lately I have been reviewing more modern non-fiction for a review company I work for, and they have been eye-opening.
    I do have one or two more recent books on my to-read list, such as Mis Peregrine’s House for Peculiar Children and Stardust, but right now I’m re-reading Lord of the Rings for inspiration for one my three works in progress.
    So this is a great blog. I completely agree.

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    • Tolkien is also a big influence for me. I read The Hobbit and LOTR trilogy as a kid and again as an adult as the movies were coming out. In my genre, I’m also influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard and contemporary crime fiction writers like Harlan Coben, Johathan Kellerman, James Patterson (early) and Stephen King.

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  6. I can definitely understand that. As a fantasy writer, Tolkien and Lewis are obviously masters of my genre. However, I am trying my hand at mystery for a job I’m working, and so I have been relying much more heavily on Doyle as a reference for that. I have read a little James Patterson, but wasn’t much a fan of his writing style. I have heard of Coben, but never read any of his works, and I have not heard of Kellerman. I’ll have to look them both up. Incidentally, do you read any Rex Stout?

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    • I have not read any Rex Stout. I will check him out. If you’re going to check out Coben, start with Tell No One. It’s his best by far. Kellerman writes a Holmes/Watson style from the point of few of a psychologist who helps the police, namely his friend Milo who is a gay LA police officer. Kellerman is actually a psychologist in real life.

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      • I will look them both up. I just finished reading through Sherlock’s anthology, so I’m in the mood for more mystery. 🙂 As for Rex Stout, the best place to start is the beginning of his series with Nero Wolfe. It’s brilliant, almost as if Mycroft lived in the 1920s. Excellent writing.

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  7. I have loved this Stephen King quote ever since I read it and I keep thinking that he is right. Whenever I read a piece of good work I write better. I don’t know how that is but I feel that by reading others we learn a lot about our own writing style.

    I would like to try and follow what you recommended. I will read books by authors in the genre where I want to write the most.

    Thanks for this wonderful article. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love to read. Stephen King is also one of my favourites and I am a huge fan of his On Writing book. As you say, I tend to read the genres I write, so mostly horror/paranormal and action/adventure (but historical, WWI or WWII time frames mostly, although I do like a Clive Cussler every now and then). I also enjoy reading non-fiction, anything from true crime to American Civil War. My tastes are broad.If I’m writing on a specific topic, I’ll tend to read things based on it. I’m currently reading a non-fiction about the history of the Special Operations Executive in WWII.

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