Someone, somewhere, at some point in my life, once told me that it is possible to be a full-time writer and not starve. And once I heard that, there was no looking back.
I want to thank this person. I also want to punch them, because now I am cursed. There’s no convincing me that a stable career in a corporate office would make me happier than typing away with the hopes of reaching an audience. There’s not a 9-5 in this world that ignites that spark of passion in me quite like meeting a daily word count. As long as paper exists, and as long as there are thoughts in my head, I am going to try and be a writer.
I realized about ten years ago that if I was going to make this side hustle actually worth my time, I should try and earn some money off of it. And to earn money writing, I would actually have to get better at it. But isn’t writing just one of those things where you’re either gifted or you’re not? Isn’t it all about talent, and less about learned skill? Sort of.
Yes, having a god-given way with words is helpful. But you can train yourself to write well. I really believe that. One of the best ways, I have found, is by reading.
Some people will tell you that you should read everything you can get your hands on, and that even bad writing is worth reading, so that learn from the pitfalls of others. I’m not necessarily sure I believe this. I worry that buying supermarket bodice-ripping novels for sake of learning from them, might backfire. I’m young, and, therefore, a sponge. All of the information around me is constantly contributing to the human I am becoming, and the way that I put words on a page. So, I say, don’t risk it. Read good stuff, so you can write good stuff.
My advice is to read the books that are actually selling. Not just the classic, literary fiction that schools require of you in your English classes, because they are deemed ingenious works. But, by reading the literature and non-fiction that people are buying, and that is topping the charts, you see what new classics are emerging. I’m curious to see what it is that is resonating with American readers right now.
That being said, there are definitely some books out there that I have buzzed through, closed the back cover, and thought to myself, “I have no idea why this is a bestseller. This is shit.” But then again, some of them I finish and I feel like taking in those pages will actually make me a better writer the next time I sit down to type a page. We can learn how to be good writers, by reading the work of good writers.
I’ve made a list of some books that I think shaped the way I write, just to name a few. They are:
- The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
- Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
- Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
I’d like to know, what books have you read that made you a better writer? Not necessarily a book that you loved, because it was a great read, but a book that helped you develop your own voice, or elevated your style? Please comment below, so that I can unapologetically steal your suggestions.