100 books, 1 year: What reading taught me about writing

graphic of books on shelf

Writers are told that if they want to write they have to read. Creative writing student Alex Cooper took the advice to heart and set herself the challenge of reading 100 books in a year.

Over the course of 2014, I completed a goal to read one hundred books. Back in January, it seemed like a terribly easy thing to do, though less so at half eleven on New Year’s Eve with the one hundredth book in my hand. But, in doing this, it made me think more about how important reading is to writers.

Good books, bad books

It’s usually the first piece of advice given to any writer. If you want to write, you have to read. Back in the day, this was a pretty terrifying thought. I’d listen to tutors at the Universities I’d been visiting, while searching for somewhere to do a creative writing course, talking about all the ‘proper’ books they’d read and recommended, and how everyone else in the room seemed to have already read them too. At this point, I was pretty new to the whole ‘being a writer’ thing. I’d only started writing a year or so before, and was still getting to grips with reading again after recovering from a long period of thinking books were boring.

“There is no way a writer cannot read and still produce good material.”

Still, I have to say, all those terrifying tutors, who were probably perfectly lovely human beings, were right. There is no way a writer cannot read and still produce good material. However, there is one point that they never really made clear: a bad book is just as good as a good book. Whether it is just an easy read, or truly awful, it’s still useful to any writer.

Returning to reading

My personal example of this happens to be Twilight by Stephanie Mayer. It was the book that finally got me back into reading, and pretty much made me a writer. While reading the series, I found myself, when I had to put one down for whatever reason, daydreaming what might happen next, and then being disappointed that the writer seemed to disagree.

After I finished them, I started a rather pointless search for the perfect book, one that had everything I wanted to happen. Of course, this was impossible, and I decided that the only way for it to exist was to write it myself. Other things fellow writers have told me when encountering a bad book is that, not only did it show them how not to write, but it also gave them hope for their own work being published.

Feed off literature

The City of Dreaming BooksStill, there’s nothing like a good book. There’s one in particular that I love called The City of Dreaming books by Walter Moers that has creatures that I believe most writers will identify with. Though I cannot name them due to spoiler reasons, these creatures feed off good literature. If they read something, they are sustained.

I feel that this is how most writers are able to write. They fill themselves up by reading, taking in ideas about language, structure and tone, before making it their own and turning it into something new and wonderful. And I believe that it doesn’t matter what someone reads, whether it be bad, good, amazing, or a proper book, as long as it fills them with words, that’s all that matters.

“Read everything. Don’t be afraid of reading outside your comfort zone.”

However, there is one thing a writer must do in terms of reading, and that is to never settle. If all you want to write is young adult fiction, then, yes, read a lot of young adult fiction, but read everything else, too. The best books are the ones that can borrow from all genres, that keep people guessing and surprised the whole way through. So, read everything. Don’t be afraid of reading outside your comfort zone. If you end up not enjoying a book, that’s fine, but you will still have learned something from it. No reading is pointless, so keep doing it.

100 books later

So, here are a few recommendations, and books I’ve learned from over the year:

  • Read anything by Neil Gaiman. He has to be one of my favourite writers and a perfect one for anyone looking for good examples of building fantastic characters and worlds.
  • The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey. This is one that has been talked about a lot, recently. I even saw a Waterstones that had a window display made up of over a dozen copies of this book and nothing else. If anything, this book has the most fantastic use of language, courtesy of a child narrator. If the story doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, then do it for the language.
  • The Reckless series by Cornelia Funke. This series currently consist of two books, but I, at least, am hoping for more. However, if this taught me anything, and anyone who is perhaps thinking of writing a series of novels, it’s to take care with the first book. Most people I know who’ve read this said the same thing; Reckless did not read like the first book in a series. Though stil l a good book, followed by an even better sequel, Fearless, the first does seem to drop kick the reader into a story the way a second or third book should, but definitely not a first.

The Sleeper and the Spindle The Girl with All the Gifts Reckless

 

 

 

 

“Drink in the words and pour them back out.”

There are literally another ninety seven more that I could mention for one reason or another but those are the three on my bookshelf that instantly spring to mind. Whether you read them or not, it doesn’t matter, just keep reading and keep writing. Drink in the words and pour them back out. I look forward to reading them in the future.

Alex Cooper About the author: Alex is a recently graduated student of Creative Writing, taking a year out to explore her own writing before applying for a Masters Degree. She is currently attempting to write a novel, as well as read over a hundred books by the end of 2015.