Writers Must Read


I’m a little more than half way done writing my sequel to “Stairway to the Bottom.” My schedule is changing from early morning writing to whatever time I can sit down at the computer. I still spend time putting chapters together in my head when driving or lying in bed, but I also read and try to read more when I’m writing – which seems to be all the time, these days!

I just finished James Lee Burke’s “Creole Belle” and am almost done with his daughter Alafair Burke’s “Never Tell.” Yeah, for you readers of Burke that didn’t know his real daughter’s name is Alafair just like his fictional daughter!

I find that reading good mysteries helps me as a writer. Of course, Stephen King used my idea in his book “On Writing.” Only kidding, King got the idea without my help, but it is a great book for writers and I don’t say that only because his beliefs on writing are similar to mine (maybe that has something to do with it, but not the only thing).

As King mentions in his book, writers have to read. I add to that, that writers should read in the genre they write. Read the writers you enjoy, respect and/or are impressed by. Doesn’t mean you have to understand or like everything they write. When I find a passage that really impresses me, I read it over and ask ‘why does that impress me?’ When I figure it out, and sometimes it’s not that easy, I have to consider if it would work in my writing. I’m not talking about stealing the sentence or paragraph, but the style or technique.

It works in reverse too. No one writes the perfect book. We try, it’s our goal but there’s always a reader that will find something wrong. As a writer, you should read to learn from others and that includes when you find something that bothers you in a book you otherwise enjoy. Why does it bother you? Was it done to bother you? Figure out what it is that bothers you, and in your own writing make sure you haven’t done almost the same thing. If so, find a way to fix it.

I try to explain to my wife that while I am under the stilt house, smoking a cigar and maybe sipping something cold, and reading, that I’m writing. She has a hard time believing that, but then again when I’m bar hopping, looking for a new character to put into a story, she doesn’t think that’s work either!

When you write, who do you read? Who influences your style your technique? I’d like to know.


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2 Responses to Writers Must Read

  1. gerald dowling says:

    Michael, I have not only enjoyed James Lee Burke, but also learned a great deal about Louisiana, just as Randy Wayne White taught me about the Everglades, and Stuart Woods taught me early on about North Georgia and England. Yeah, a few of the writers throw in words I have never associated with them for six books but I am sure it is an oversight, and get over it before I get to the end of the story. As I follow the characters, I can feel when a writer buys another house somewhere. Strange isn’t it?

  2. Gerald, thanks for the comment. Yeah, it happens to all of us. What you, or I, might think strange doesn’t bother other readers and something we might enjoy confuses other readers. The human condition, I guess. But I’m thankful we’re not all alike. How awful that would be!

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