For the last Hints & Tips blog of the year I’m going with some classic advice – to read. I know it’s kind of a cliché, but I really and truly believe it’s the best way to learn how to write. Whenever I get stuck, I pick up a book, partly because it’s preferable to banging my head on the table, but also because it’s a great way to kickstart my brain. And if you don’t believe me, here’s what Stephen King has to say on the subject:
“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. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)
So there! Reading makes you a better, more aware writer, but I also think there’s more to it than that. I heard a programme on the radio a few weeks ago between a gardener and a poet, talking about inspiration and where they found it. The poet said he had to turn off all his technology every so often, just to get back to the things that really matter and listen to his own thoughts again. It made sense because sometimes it feels like we’re all so busy plotting and editing and arranging publicity and trying to keep up with social media that we can lose touch with other people – and other books, too. And sometimes we also forget how really draining writing can be and how much we need to take a break and be re-inspired by reading once in a while.
Christmas seems like a good time to do this, not just to reconnect with other people, but to reconnect with our non-writing selves, too. I write under a pseudonym and I can have an existential crisis some days wondering who I am. So at Christmas I have a non-writing rule. I’m allowed to make notes of ideas, but I’m not allowed to actually turn my lap-top on. Instead I get a big box of chocolates and ensconce myself on the sofa by the window, peering up occasionally over my mug of tea at the rain/snow/murk outside and just read for the fun of it. It’s bliss.
So this month’s writing tip is to take a break, let your brain cells relax and recharge your creative well by becoming a reader again. Your WIP will be waiting for you in January, but hopefully you’ll come back inspired and refreshed.
In other words, have a happy Christmas and book-filled new year.
Jenni Fletcher writes historical romance for Mills & Boon and teaches creative writing at a university in the north of England. She really does intend to hog the sofa this festive season.