Reading with writer’s eyes…

Being a writer is not easy at all, being a reader who writes neither it is. Reading and Writing are my biggest passions. But as I try to merge them into one world, I realize the challenge increases.

In order to write, you have to read. This is the most common advice you’ll receive from writers, books and courses about writing. And there is no bigger truth. Once you decide that writing is you want to do for the rest of your life, reading will come attached as a twin sister. I don’t believe in writers who don’t read. I just can’t. It won’t matter how many a good ideas you have, if you don’t know how the world of books work, and the only way to know is by getting up close to what’s out there.

But one must read all types of books out there:

Reading classics – They are classics for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that they usually show great command of the language. They display high-quality narrative that has been awarded and well appraised by so many. What works in these books? What made them classics? You need to find out by for yourself.

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Reading Best Sellers – And it includes the highly criticized dystopian YA. But why are they so popular? Why are their writers the ones that can actually make a living of this? I usually hear many people chastising these books. Finding them with “my favorite books” tag in intellectual circles of writers would be almost impossible …. But guess what? They do sell! They have “the formula.” And yes, writing-wise they may not be the best example, but they can certainly grab readers.

Now, you may say: “Well, it depends on the reader.” And usually not all teenagers are the most loyal parameter of quality reading, but they are a wide popular profitable target market. Despite these books might be cheesy and corny, we realize many adults do also enjoy them. The key, I believe, is to find a balance between what is good writing and what sells. Let’s face it, we all know that deep in our hearts, we would really love to make money of our writing. So reading this literature we must (my Yoda dysfunctional personality)

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Reading all genres – I’ve heard tons of advice saying that you must read in your genre. True! But it doesn’t end there. I’ve learned to read in all sorts of genres. And I believe that it’s not fair to say you aren’t used to an X genre because you don’t read in it. All genres are writing; all of them teach us something. Romance teaches us how to create romantic tension between characters. Thrillers teach us how to insert adventure and movement in your plot. Mysteries teach us how to grab readers until the end of the book. Sci-fi teaches us through setting description how to create fantasy worlds. Memoirs teach us how not to lose the essence and spirit of your book… and so on…. All these elements usually coexist in a book.

People read not only because the plot was so exciting that they couldn’t let the book go, but also because they cared about the protagonists; they found allies or inspiration in them. I’ve read a couple of action-packed thrillers that got me bored easily. I reached a point where I was just so bored about the extensive description of a fight scene; a slow motion punch described in pages. It reminded me of those movies where half of the movie is shootings and guns and no interesting plot. It also happens with books.

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If you’re like me, with preference for Thrillers for example, then you have at least to care about one of your characters. We want to know that the CIA spy of a book has a family with a sick child, that if he doesn’t do the job, his son will die. We want that CIA spy that when he’s about to die, we will keep reading and pray that he doesn’t. If he’s just a random handsome spy with great muscles, involved in a cat and mouse chase during the plot, it gets boring…Thriller writers need to read romance and memoirs too!

As a writer, I try to read with a different eye. I try to see all elements in a book, how dialogue flows, how settings and actions are described, how writers show and don’t tell. I assess why the plot gets exciting, how chapters end, and what makes me go to the next chapter. I evaluate those setting descriptions that are just too long for me to care. I write down when I find words and expressions that work so well that I could use them in a further work (one of the advantages of kindle reading, that you can highlight words without actually damaging a book.)

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This is a new way of reading, different from what I was used to, but satisfying nonetheless. It’s not only about finding refuge in a book while resting on a reading corner, but also investing time in my long-time dreamed goals.

If you’re a writer, do you find yourself with this different perspective of reading?

Reviewing Books is not as nice as you think

Have you ever been asked to review/beta read or provide any kind of feedback for a manuscript or self published book?

It’s harsh. Because not every book is for everybody and not everybody is for every book. (I’ve googled this phrase ’cause I think I might have heard it before, but I found nothing. So if you happen to know who said that, please let me know so I can give the proper credits and quotes where it corresponds.) And what does this means? It means that it doesn’t matter how much you love books or how many books you’ve read in your entire life, some books may not be just for you. It all depends on personal preferences.

Through my life, I’ve read in most genres: thrillers, horror, mysteries, romance, young adult, political essays, biographies, memoirs, sci-fi, fantasy, etc., and I’m almost sure that at least I have one favorite in each genre. As some say, I read in a wide spectrum and it’s hard to define a favorite genre. It’s mostly how I connect with the book. For some readers, it’s about the characters and how they connect with them. I’m more a plot-driven person. I like things to happen, feel a flow in the narrative.

But sometimes I have issues with “classic” English books.  Since most of them were written too long ago, I struggle to follow them; the writing style too different from I’m used to. And there’s the issue of my first language too, meaning that the compulsory reading I had in my school years was “way” different from traditional English literature.

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Image source: vqronline.org

So in this task of reading “the English classics” I found myself disappointed most of the time. I have a knack for spying the reviews before I start reading them. And since classics have a good reputation, you usually find good reviews about them. But when I read them, I find myself unable to connect with the reviews. It seems like I’ve been reading a different book. I get high expectations from the “best classics of all ages” to only find myself struggling to finish them.

But the worst experience sometimes happens when you’re asked to review a book for somebody else. It could be a review for an already self-published book or a beta reading of a manuscript. It doesn’t matter how you advertise in beta read forums about enjoying thrillers and mysteries. because sometimes the sort of thriller you get is not really your cup-of-tea.

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Image source: teleread.com

How do you tell these people? If certainly makes it harder when the book has already been published… making bad reviews in platforms such as Goodreads or Amazon could actually damage the selling chances of the book. It’s harsh.

I wonder if there’s a way to explain your preferences in a reviewer profile that is not based on genre preference. I guess it’s part of the business. A risk you have to take as a reviewer.  A training you have to embrace to improve your tactics skills in dealing with not liked books.

And you, do you think there is a good way to write a bad review for a self published book?

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Image source: www.cprw.com

Book review: On Writing: A memoir of the craft by Stephen King

I must confess I really like listening to Audiobooks, not only because I can listen to something interesting while driving or riding the bus, but because when it’s well narrated, the voice can give it a very nice plus to the story. Now “On Writing” by Stephen King is a must on audio as well as on paper. How many audiobooks can you get narrated by the same author? Well, the same Stephen King himself reads you this book.  In other words, you can hear all his examples, stories, advices in his own voice like he were telling them straight to you. The effect it produces is that you actually believe Stephen King is talking to you, personally, in a one-on-one meeting. You can even consider this gathering as a “close friends” encounter. His voice sticks to your head. And when you finish the book, you can still hear his voice in your head when you’re writing, it’s unbelievably effective!

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I’ve read a couple of books about writing, from the grammar perspective to the style, from plot building, to character development, to brainstorming, etc.; all of them good, or at least with plenty of advice for beginner writers. But I must be sincere, I cannot remember much of the advice at the moment. I would have to go through them again or see my notes to remember the exact advice. But from Mr. King, I can remember everything, I can hear him still saying “just be honest and say the f*”, making me laugh and making it easier for me to understand the writing tip (I wonder if I am a better learner when some cursing is around, maybe it helps to grab my attention…)

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Besides the excellent tips and clear examples, this book is also about the story of a great career, perseverance, believing, and never giving up. This book is not only for writers, I believe everybody can extract good life advice from it.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend this audiobook to everybody out there who wants to have some sort of writing tutor, a coach, or even a writing friend (I have found myself making references such as “like my good friend Stephen says…”). Stephen King tells you everything you should know about writing and makes sure you do not forget it.

One tip if you want to improve your writing

I’ve just finished reading “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White; a classic most people recommended me in writers forums if I wanted to be a writer.

I must confess I felt ashamed when I saw the book had been available all this time in my office. When somebody mentioned that it was a tiny little book, I thought, Wait isn’t the one lying over there? If I had known earlier…

Anyway, I found it brilliant. The book went straight to the point. I can’t believe Mr. Strunk Jr. wrote it so long ago (1919 to be precise) and its contents are still applicable today. Of course, E.B. White updated it later, but still the foundations were already there.

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This is the first “Style” book I actually read from start to end. I have consulted others, but only for specific topics. Now, I’m considering in going over this book again as soon as I enter into the third revision of my novel manuscript; just to make sure I remember all the words that I’m not supposed to use, the ones that are ambiguous, redundant, or just plain bad english. I felt good knowing that I’ve already eliminated most words from my writing, but at the same time, there were still many others in the book I was not aware of, or just some rules I had forgotten.

Like this style book, I still plan to review other books that people have advised me to read. I’m currently with “On Writing” by Stephen King (I’ll let you know my comments when I finish it). I feel like I am acquiring more knowledge and experience. I love the process.

When I started to write, I believed it was all about inspiration and great ideas. A little part is about that, but little. It is more is about hard work and perseverance.

And you, have you read any style/grammar book to improve your skills? I would like to know if you have any books you can recommend me.

Book review – The Art of Racing in the Rain

A couple of months ago, when I started writing, I decided to do a little research on Points of View (POV). You see, when you write, the easiest Point of View to write in, is First Person (any other writers out there that find the opposite, would love to hear it in the comments). First person POV is comfortable; you identify much better with your main character, you are in his/her head, thoughts, feelings, and writing comes easier. HOWEVER, it’s not always the best, it´s limiting. You have to be careful how to handle other scenes where your character is not present (which is difficult). So of course I started to write in Third Person POV, but that’s not the topic of this post.

When I was doing the research, I found a group post discussing this topic and a comment from someone recommending “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein (sorry I can’t remember who commented this, if you’re out there reading this post, please let me know it was you who posted the comment to thank you). The comment suggested that you could also use something original as the POV of a dog; yes you read that well, a dog! which I found hilarious. Being an animal lover, I´ve always been interested in knowing what was going on in my dog’s head whenever she had her puppy eyes directed to me. So I immediately added the suggested book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein to my Amazon shopping cart, and one month and a half later (yes, it takes that long to reach my country) the book was in my hands.

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Dana, my dog, getting interested in the story

Enzo, the character of this book is brilliant. He’s complex, he has many ideas of his own, and has a deep perspective about life in general. And of course, similar to his owner, the dog is all about racing cars. He’s become an expert due to the hours exposed to watching TV races with his owner.  The story is beautiful, full of ups, downs, and real ordinary life situations, but what is most appealing is Enzo’s insights about everything that happens around him. I won’t give up any spoilers in here of course, but the scene with the Zebra for those ones that have read the book is hilarious.  Of course this book is also sentimental, and lots of tears are expected (yes, I´m one of those that suddenly bursts into crying while holding a book; actually I´m very expressive when I read a book, for instance, if the scene is funny, I’m the weird person sitting next to you laughing out loud in the doctor’s waiting room or any other public place.)

The art of writing books is related to how you engage readers to your characters, how believable and appealing they are. I’ve never imagined a dog would create such a big connection. I loved this book, even if you’re not into racing cars – a topic Enzo is an expert on – you’ll still enjoy the story deeply. I would definitely recommend this book.