Whenever I ask the Oldest Junior Hall how work is going, he always says, “I’m a Busy Bee!” So I’m deep into my pre-writing (all that stuff I shared last time!) and buzzing around myself.
But I want to circle back, as the news people love to say, to a part of my pre-writing. Namely, the reading part. Which isn’t writing at all but just as important in the pre-writing process.
If you’ve ever used mentor texts, it’s mostly that concept. It’s hugely beneficial for me to read up in what I’m planning to write. Take, for example, a new market that I’ve come across and have an idea I figure will fit. First, I’ll read a bit of the market to get a feel for the style they like. But I’m also reading to sort of saturate my brain with the tone of this new market. I don’t know if osmosis works like that in writing, but I kinda feel like it does for me.
However, the osmosis trick doesn’t work quite the same way when it comes to novels or picture books. That takes a little more reading work.
Back in the day, I penned a bunch of picture books; the Oldest Junior Hall was the Only Junior Hall so it really was a long time ago. And when I jumped into children’s writing, I wrote even more picture books because I’d been into picture books for years. The trouble was, it had been years since I’d actually read ‘em and picture books have come a long way in the last decade or two. So I had a lot to learn about what makes a good picture book today; reading A LOT of contemporary picture books, and using mentor texts, was not only eye-opening but also game-changing for me.
And when I dipped my toes into children’s novels, I gravitated toward middle grade. Who knew I still think (and write) like a 12-year-old? Anyway, I put in hours and hours, reading A LOT of middle grade fiction so I’d know what the pre-teens were into these days. But also because I just really like middle grade fiction. It was basically immersion therapy and a tremendously helpful tool.
Now, I’m going back to adult fiction, specifically cozy mystery. As it happened, when the world was closed down, I read digital books, and I found myself reading mysteries. I LOVE mysteries and so it was a joy to read LOTS of mysteries, from charming and cozy to suspenseful and intense. So yeah, I’d done a lot of reading and I was all in for some mystery-writing. But I was also interested in writing a series so next, I decided to read a few series’ books; not the whole series, just the first one. And I was looking for the good…and the bad.
Because here’s the last reason I read: sometimes, it’s not about what to do; sometimes, it’s about what NOT to do. And though I realize that even badly written books get published (I mean, we’ve all read books and wondered how, right?), I don’t think a debut author in a new genre can risk poor writing.
So when I see a lot of boring minutiae of a character’s day, I cringe. (And make a mental note not to get bogged down in the tedious.) When I read declarative sentences that end with question marks in that annoying way we speak sometimes, where our inflection goes up after statements, I want to scream. (There’s another mental note for me, to avoid that sort of punctuation that stops the reader.)
Yep, reading serves a myriad of purposes in my pre-writing and writing, so I highly recommend it. And when I’m lounging on a beach chair, book in one hand, cool drink in the other, and the Junior Halls imply that it must be nice, just sitting around, I can say in all honesty, “Scram! I’m a busy bee here!”