Reading, Writing, and a Magic Trick: Reading to Write the Best Novel

I grew up in a school that taught the idea that one ought to “read good writin’ so you can write good readin’.” I went to college to get an English degree in order (my secret motive) to become a better author. And the high school teacher who coined that advice in my mind I still agree with, and the studies in English literature at college did help me become a better writer (and a new poet, but that’s a different story.) However, there was one simple truth that dawned on me somewhere in college to break my lifelong naivete:

Good books aren’t perfect.

I grew up thinking that all those classics that I read in school, Iliad, The Scarlet LetterIvanhoeThe Brothers Karamozov, and so on–were all absolutely, irrefutably spotless and unbreakable tomes. Well, I know that we could break them down in class and argue with their philosophy and theology, but more or less, I thought these books were perfect, and that reading as many of these good books as I could, the better of a writer I would become. The more I soak up those authors’ styles and stories, the better my styles and stories would be.

I forget exactly how I came to see that no book is perfect. Perhaps it was in a creative writing class. In any case, many authors today will tell you that the only way to become a better writer is to write. To Practice. Writing.

Of course there is a need for writers to read good writing as well, as their skills in dialogue, scenery, pacing, plot, characters, etc. are invaluable influences on skill and cultural/historical context. However, no one will become a best-selling, time-defeating author by reading Harry Potter, or as I’ve been doing, reading the beginning of People Like Us by Dana Mele and Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. (I couldn’t read any more of People Like Us after two sit-downs with it. Very compelling, but nasty characters.)

More importantly than any reading or even actual writing, the author himself can be either a dangerous or uplifting influence. No matter how beautiful and gripping the writing is, the content matters more. The spirit, so to speak, that fills all those writing skills employed in the pages, is what’s going to get you most. So what do you want to read? (Or, who do you want to spend time with and be like?) And what do you want readers to read?

Though at first glance it may appear to be void of 2018 style and irrelevant to modern genres, the Bible is written better than any bestselling novel. (In fact, I believe it is the best-best-selling book.) If you look into it yourself, you’ll find not only incredible plot arrangements and hidden messages and symbolism within, but also the grandest and most crucial scheme ever pertaining to the existence of man. That’s the content everybody wants to write. No magic is involved in writing well because of reading the Bible; it’s just the influence and inspiration of God through His book.