Garbage In, Garbage Out: What You Read Matters

Writing

In December of 2017, the publishing company where I did a lot of contract editing, Loose Id, announced their closure. The four women who own the company handled it very well, with much more grace and responsibility than most publishing companies that have closed in recent years. They made the decision to shut down before they had to shut down, well before things were in crisis. And so the entire situation is being handled smoothly.

The demise of the company isn’t what this is about (though we could probably fill dozens of blog pages about why smaller publishing companies are going under). What this is about has more to do with ten years of reading slush.

As part of my duties, as with all the editors, I read from the slush pile and recommended whether we should acquire or reject manuscripts. During that time, I’d also gone back to school for my MFA, which required additional reading and writing. For well over a year, I was reading, on average, a quarter of a million words per week. That’s 250,000 words a week. The equivalent of three full length novels. And that wasn’t counting my writing or my actual editorial work. Some of it was very good (the grad reading), and some of it was very bad (the slush pile).

As you might imagine, I was a bit burned out after that. I fell out of the habit of reading, except what I needed to do for work. If you’ve ever had the experience of reading a slush pile regularly, you may be able to anticipate where this is going.

If you’ve never had the singular joy cough of slogging through a slush pile, you don’t really have an idea of the dredge that lives there. Now, there are some gems and there are some diamonds in the rough, yes. Not everything in the slush pile is awful. But a lot is.

Much of the slush pile, though, is made up of authors who aren’t quite ready for publication yet. Not necessarily bad writers, but green writers. This isn’t terrible in and of itself. But remember when I said I had been burned out on reading? I was. And that meant I wasn’t doing any pleasure reading. So all of the input into my writerly brain was the stories of green (and bad) writers.

The result was that when I did finally get back to my writing, I found my words lacking. I would read the work I did in grad school and compare it to the work I was producing. There was no contest. It was easy to see which was which… which was better. And let me say, it wasn’t what I was producing currently.

All successful writers always advise to read as much as you write. My experience is an abject lesson in why that’s excellent advice.

I feel as if there are two things that writers need to do: write and read.

I’m not saying we must read Tolstoy or Faulkner. But we must read good, quality writing.

Writing hones the skill. Reading feeds the subconscious–not just the stories, but the style, the craft. Writers must read.

Writing hones the skill. Reading feeds the subconscious--not just the stories, but the style, the craft. Writers must read. #amwriting #amreading Click To Tweet

What are you reading right now? What’s on your To Be Read pile?

 

 

 

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