Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reading, Reading, Reading

I’ve been out of the office a lot lately, so I haven’t been writing much. But I’ve still been reading. Reading really is an important part of writing—just as important as sitting down at the keyboard and typing away.

Since I write nonfiction books, I read a lot during the research phase of any project. I read kids books and adult books on the topic. I read magazine articles and scientific journals too. This reading provides me with background information, which I can then round out by interviewing scientists working in the field or with my own experiences.

But I also read children's nonfiction to learn from the masters. I love the way April Pulley Sayre and Dianna Hutts Aston craft language. I love how Steve Jenkins and David M. Schwartz play with format and design. I’m a huge fan of the voice that runs through Vicki Cobb’s books. She really knows how to make science fun. And I’m in awe of how Deborah Heiligman synthesizes information is new and exciting ways.

I also read fiction written for kids and adults. I read poetry too. As I read fiction, I pay close attention to how the writers pull readers into their story, how they build scenes and develop narrative arcs, how they use language to create mood, and how they achieve the kind of pacing their stories need. All of these elements of craft can enrich nonfiction writing too.

Sometimes I discover clever new techniques that I can modify for my own purposes. Sometimes I come away with a solution to a problem I’m having with a particular manuscript. And sometimes I’m just plain old inspired. That’s important too because writing can be hard work, and sometimes I just need a reason to keep on going.


Dorothy Patent said...

I give workshops for beginning writers, and I often find that they don't understand how important reading is to their writing efforts. When I tell an aspiring picture book writer to go to the library and read at least a couple dozen recent picture books recommended by the librarian, I often get blank stares. Maybe we need a motto, something like "read, read, read, so you can write, write, write."

Susan E. Goodman said...

It was reading the wonderful nonfiction book Round Buildings, Square Buildings, and Buildings that Wiggle like a Fish by Philip Isaacson that made me a kids' book writer. It was so beautiful, simple and sophisticated, I thought, Wow, maybe I can do that!