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The Best Advice for a Writer

Here at the Tollbooth, one of our favorite bloggers (and favorite people) is    Cynthia Leitich Smith.

On her spectacular blog CYNSATIONS, she often interviews children's and YA writers, asking "What advice do you have for aspiring writers?" I haven't made an official statistical analysis of their answers but it seems nine times out of ten they say "READ READ READ"

Okay, fine, a good writer is nearly always well read.
But does this prevailing best advice for writers mean more than "run, don't walk to the nearest bookstore or library"?

When I was a kid I loved to read.
From Go Dog Go  to
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter   books took me places I needed to go.  But once I began to write I had to give up reading for pleasure.


Yes, you read that right. I read at least two or three books a week but I rarely get lost in a book. Does that mean I read "bad books"-- books that are poorly written, with lame characters and dull plots? No. Not if I can help it. I read the best books I can find. But now I read as a writer, sucking craft tips and techniques from the pages right and left. I don't get lost in the story. As I read I know where I am in the text and in the technique at every turn.

This week in the Tollbooth I'll explore what it means to read like a writer, reading with intention, with an eye to what you can use in the book you're working on now, and the books you'll write next month, next year, and far into the future.

Tomorrow we'll talk about finding a "personal core text". I'll give you tips on finding your voice by examining the voices of others, stealing without plagarizing, and lots more.

Finally-- Today we're raising a glass in celebration.

It's graduation day for the class of Summer 2009- the Secret Society of the Quill and Quire- from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  Hip Hip Hooray!!!!! from your sister Alumni of VCFA- welcome to the club!!
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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
This is going to be a great week. Reading like a writer and analyzing what works in other books is one of the essential jobs of the writer.

What books will you be discussing this week? (so I can read ahead)

Congrats to the graduates!!!

Jul. 20th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Sounds great! Thanks for all the advice. Keep it coming!

Jul. 20th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
Congrats, new grads!

Tami, I'm excited for this week. "Read like a writer" is something I say often to aspiring writers, especially teen students, and it can be hard to explain what that means, exactly, so I'm glad you're taking it on!
Jul. 20th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
Looking forward to it!

Looking for tips & techniques for reading as a writer.
I tend to watch movies as a writer, especially if they don't grab or hold my interest

Jul. 21st, 2009 10:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Looking forward to it!
Watching movies as a writer is a great idea, especially when you're thinking about basic plot structure and building tension. But not so good, usually, for weaving in subplots or anything subtle.
Sometimes if I suspect a movie will help me with a novel I slip a little pad and pencil into my pocket and take notes in the theater.
Jul. 20th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Even though I do read like a writer, and have ever since I was part way through my dissertation (hence the abandoned dissertation), every so often a book comes along that sucks me in the way it did when I was a kid. Those are the books I want to find, the two or three books a year that knock my socks off. After I've read them, I can stop to think about why I had that reaction and how the writer did it, but during the reading, I'm in the world the author created.
Jul. 21st, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
Yes. This. And those are the books I want to write!
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Jul. 21st, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
I thought it went without saying that you were SUPER!!!!! Congratulations!
Jul. 21st, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
Haha! That is . . . The Super Secret Society of Quirk and Quill aka The Quills. But we like being the only ones to get the name right. Shhh!!!

And thanks! Graduation was amazing!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )