R is for Reading (and also for Reviewing and Research)

One tip for writers of any kind that I wholeheartedly endorse is the importance of reading as broadly and as analytically as possible. Reading materials from one’s own field and areas of interest helps to gain a better idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of sentence structure, word usage, pitch level and so on, while reading across as many other areas as possible can also enable development. Tips and ideas for improvement can come from anywhere and everywhere. That’s not to say that one shouldn’t get lost in a good book, or give up on reading something if it isn’t to one’s taste, but a good idea is to always set some time aside afterwards, even if that’s just a couple of minutes, to analyse what did or didn’t work from a reader’s perspective and to try to figure out why that was the case.

Which leads me on to reviewing. I write book reviews under another identity, informally to remind myself, and to inform my friends what I’ve been reading and to suggest other books that may or may not be worth looking out for (if I particularly like one book in a series, but don’t have time to read the next right away, it’s always useful to have a place to go back to and find a record of the fact for when I have more time) and also semi-formally, to report on newly published and upcoming books to a wider audience of readers. In both cases, I try to give a balanced point of view, since there are plenty of books that aren’t to my taste but which obviously appeal to others. Likewise, just because I love a particular book, series or author’s entire works, not everyone will agree with me, and so it’s important for me to mention any flaws that I’m prepared to overlook, but which might be a sticking point for others. Lack of research in books, particularly in historical novels, or in books where I already know a lot about the subject area, are my big bugbear, but I know plenty of readers who will overlook factual errors if the story is strong enough.

Factual books, however, have to be well researched, and that’s a huge topic that I probably shouldn’t be tackling in so short a post other than to mention that while a lot of information can be accumulated via the internet, nothing beats a good book or first-hand account if one is available. So support your local libraries and independent bookshops for pleasure reading and when reading to learn. You’d miss them if they weren’t there.

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