by Gina Sestak
This month, we're focusing on the best writing advice we've received. I have received so much good writing advice that it's hard to know what to repeat here, so I decided to start with the most basic advice to writers: Read. Read the kind of book you're working on. Read other kinds of books. Read magazine articles. Read poetry. Read short stories. Read the ingredients on the ketchup label. Read everything.
Reading as a writer differs from reading for pleasure, although it can still be fun. When we read for pleasure, we want to be entertained. We ask, "Why did that character do that?" or "What will happen next?" When we read as writers, we ask, "How did the writer do this -- create the scene, engage my interest, make the character come to life?" It's a lot like looking at houses.
When we look at houses for pleasure, we may think, "What pretty wallpaper." When we are considering building a house ourselves, however, we need to know about those things that run behind the walls, the pipes and wires and ducts without which the house would be only a non-functional shell. We need to know how to use tools.
Writing a book is similar. One page of pretty paper will not be enough. We have to understand how to intermesh plot and character to form the strong supporting structure, and to allow our characters to change and grow. We have to learn the arcane rules of grammar and spelling. We have to broaden our vocabularies so the perfect word will be there when we need it. We have to understand the tools of our trade, the pen and the paper and the word processing software. We have to know how to find information on the internet or in the library. We have to eavesdrop on ordinary conversations to learn how people express themselves. We have to immerse ourselves in real-life experiences to give our characters authenticity.
We have to build a book the way we would build a house. Brick by brick and word by word.