The Importance of Readers

I started this month’s theme which focused on readers with a guest post, “The Importance of Fiction,” on author M. Liz Boyle’s site, and decided to conclude with the importance of readers. The importance of readers to an author can’t be overstated or underestimated. In fact, it’s readers that turn a writer into an author.

We Begin as Writers

God made me a writer. I was born with a writer’s mind. If I never published any work, I’d still be a writer. But an author is different. I thought an author is someone who is paid for her writing. And I think that’s the popular definition. But a writer becomes an author when he writes for a reader and then shares that work with her. That ability to share takes both courage and generosity.

When I began writing as a kid, it was because I had to. Writing on odds bits of homework got me through some very boring, trying years in junior high and high school. When I began working on a novel, I had the attitude that this was a magnificent work of fiction and the whole world would fall in love with. I wrote to please myself. That’s fine if I never wanted to publish. Most writers would find it difficult to write fiction they hate or nonfiction they aren’t interested in. But if that’s a writer’s only attitude and publication is his goal, he will run into trouble.

Because I was so sure my first novel was fantastic, I didn’t think other people’s criticism was valid, so I had no need to make revisions unless I spotted problems. I knew what story I wanted to tell, and readers were going to enjoy it exactly as I did. I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that first novel was never published.

We May Become Authors

When I finally began to realize my writing needed major renovations to get published, I accepted advice more readily, and my writing improved. This is where the courage comes in. A writer has to have the courage to admit she doesn’t know everything about this art and needs to seek instruction.

My writing also improved when I kept future readers in mind, which in the beginning, I found overwhelming. I’m a small-town person. I like rural life and getting to know a few people well. When I do writing workshops, I like small groups rather than large ones. So the idea of writing for a large audience seemed impossible. I had to imagine my audience as just a few readers, such as my beta readers, who were friends.

As I wrote with these readers in mind, my storytelling improved because I was being generous. If I felt a reader wouldn’t understand a section, I’d work it until the meaning was crystal clear because I hate entering a scene and getting lost. I’d add a line or a confrontation because I hoped readers would enjoy it. I rewrote the ending of my novel three times because I wanted readers to be rewarded for making it to the climax of a newbie author’s first book.

When I had the opportunity to publish my fiction, I again had to have courage and generosity. The courage to let my work come under the judgement of strangers, and the generosity to allow those strangers to draw their own enjoyment or meaning from my work, not necessarily what I meant for them to find. Any time a writer does that, inviting the reader to complete the artistic process of writing, whether the work is published and bought by millions or shared with a few friends, he or she is an author.

Let me know what is the importance of readers to your writing.

What Books Did You Fall in Love With the Second Time Around?

What books did you fall in love with second time around? I have read some books that I couldn’t stand, and then after the passage of time, I’ve given them a second chance and fell in love with them.

When I was twenty, I was working my way through classic mysteries. I’d already read Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and Nero Wolfe, so I decided to try the Father Brown short stories. And I hated them. They seemed so unrealistic, and worse, weren’t fair play mysteries. In most of the stories, Father Brown solves the mystery because of a special insight that the reader had no opportunity to learn.

Twenty years later, I tried them again, although I don’t remember why. And I fell in love with them. I realized that not all mysteries have to follow the fair play formula. The Father Brown stories are more like morality plays or fairy tales for adults with elements of mystery rather than realistic crime stories.

At forty, I could appreciate G.K. Chesterton’s writing better. At his best, Mr Chesterton’s prose has a bounce and rhythm that makes it a breeze to read. I would love to be able to write that well some day.

Let me hear from you. What books did you fall in love with the second time around, maybe after a year or a decade or two had past?

For more bookish questions, click here.

Help for a Reluctant Reader

This may seem weird for an author to admit but I’m looking for help for a reluctant reader. And I’m the reluctant one. For the past six months or so, I’ve found it extremely difficult to sit down with a book and enjoy it. Finishing a novel is almost impossible. I think the problem stems from the fact that 2021 ambushed my family. All the drama and trauma has left me with little patience and a tiny attention span. So I’m reprinting the advice I gave last year to help writers who have lost the joy of reading and hope readers out there will have even more tips to aid me in regaining my love for it.

Writers often lose the pleasure of reading because we read through our writer’s lens and evaluate a story as a writer, not as a reader. Here are three ways writers can reclaim reading joy.

Schedule Time to Read

That may not sound like fun. I have to schedule time to read like a dental appointment? But I’ve found that with a husband and kids, if I don’t schedule everything–even something as minor as my pleasure reading–I will never stumble across a free hour to sit down with a book. I have never stumbled across a free hour to do anything since my kids were born. Now I understand why my mother often took a book to the bathroom.

On Sundays, I don’t do any writing or anything related to publishing. I try to read just for the fun of it. I’m not always successful. I’m so wired to work that it’s hard to relax. But it’s nice to stretch out with a book other than at bedtime.

Read Dead Authors

A good piece of advice for writers pursuing publication is to become familiar with the books currently being published in their genre. The drawback of that advice is that writers constantly analyze those books, comparing them to their work in progress, robbing themselves of reading joy. 

Reading great books from the past in my genre removes the need to dissect them. It also educates me in the history of my genre.

Read a Genre You Don’t Write

Reading a genre I have no intention of writing in helps silence, or at least muffles, my internal editor. I can more easily approach a book of historical fiction or sci-fi as a reader than as a writer.

That’s one reason I enjoy reading poetry. I know I’ll never publish anything I write, so reading it is simply fun.

For more posts focused on readers and books, click here.

Does you have suggestions to help a reluctant reader? I like mysteries, humor, poetry, and speculative fiction short stories. They have to be quick reads. I’d love some recommendations.

What Makes You Not Finish a Book?

What makes you not finish a book? My reasons come under two headings: content and style. Under content, I quit reading if there’s too much cursing or too much graphic or inappropriate content. I can’t give you any hard and fast rules. I just know that if I’m reading a story and those things make me fed up or revolted, I quit. Also, I can’t stand to read a book where children are in horrible danger or killed. Those plots makes me sick.

Style is entirely different. I usually close a book before the end if I can’t connect with the main character. Often that’s because there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the character. I’ve read about this kind of character a hundred times before. But other times, I quit reading because the characters don’t act like human beings, in that they behave in a way that’s convenient to the plot, not like a person would in reality. Ridiculous plot twists also turn me off. I was reading a mystery from 1938 that used hypnotism as a fairly minor plot point. Any enjoyment I’d derived from reading the book went out the window. I don’t think hypnotism was original or believable even in 1938.

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. What makes not finish a book?

For more reader-related articles, click here.

Do You Read in Time?

Do you read in time? By that, I mean do you read stories in the month or season in which they are set? Most readers have their favorite Christmas and Halloween stories that they reread around those holidays. Since I love mysteries, and for some reason Christmas and mysteries like to hang out for the holiday season, I have tons to choose from.

But I also read stories which are set during non-holiday times. My brother-in-law, for example, reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early spring each year because the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the epic battle at the end of The Return of the King, is fought in March.

I read Watership Down in June because that’s when the story starts. It covers most of the summer with an epilogue in the fall, but I read it in June because the description of nature is so lush that it seems to fit in that month. For the same reason, I read The Time Machine in summer. The Time Traveler travels to the year 802,701. This England of far in the future is experiencing a gold summer so it makes sense to reread it during this season. I read the mystery stories featuring Uncle Abner as the detective in fall because some of my favorite stories from this series are set them, although others are set in other seasons.

I think I like to read in time because it makes me feel closer to the story, like I’m living it with the characters.

Sometimes, I choose to read a book at the same time I discovered it. I took The Father Hunt by Rex Stout with me on our summer vacation a few years ago. It was so wonderful to rediscover this mystery that I packed it again for our next summer vacation and will continue to do so this year. The flip side of that is that bad circumstances can make me dislike a story. I read a Nero Wolfe novella while driving home from visiting my parents during the holiday season. For some reason, I got car sick while my husband drove. The next time I tried to read the novella, that sensation of nausea came over me again. Fortunately, after a space of several years, I could reread the story with no ill effects.

Write in Time

I also tend to write in time. In A Shadow on the Snow, I have pivotal scene occur during a snowstorm on Valentine’s Day and the novel ends on Good Friday. For the next novel in the series, I open on Memorial Day and plan to wrap it up on Father’s Day. Using the holidays as touchstones isn’t something I thought a lot about. Since family is critical to my stories, it makes sense to work in holidays, which are often the most memorable events in the life of a family.

What do you think? Besides reading Christmas stories at the appropriate time, do you read in time?

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