Like most writers, I like to read about other writers, even writers whose work I don't read. One example is Stephen King. If you're looking for a great book about writing, I highly recommend his book, On Writing, even though I have never read (and will probably never read) any of his horror novels. His advice on writing, however, is rock solid. And why wouldn't it be? After all, he is one of the most successful writers alive today.
Anyway, I want to reiterate an excellent tidbit from the book that popped into my head recently.
He said that a lot of people ask him if he's afraid he'll ever run out of ideas, and his answer is, "No." Even though he is writing horror, he gets his ideas from things that happen to him every day. One example he offered was when he stopped for gas in the desert. While his car was filling with gas, he went to look into the canyon behind the gas station and lost his footing. He nearly feel thousands of feet to his death! Obviously he was totally fine, walked back to his car, and continued on his trip. But like most of us who have a scare, he couldn't stop thinking about what had happened. And one thing that he wondered was -- what would the gas station attendant have done if no one had ever moved his car? And that is where he got the idea for his From a Buick Eight novel. Of course, he threw a scary spin on the deserted car in his novel, but it all started from something that happened to him in his daily life.
The only novel that I ever wrote started as the result of a friend telling me a tragic story about her life. Although her life turned out okay, I couldn't help but think what would have happened if she had not been blessed with a supportive and loving husband. Her story would have ended very differently. And my imagination turned my friend into a fictional character who started telling me her story, which I had to write. Get the idea?
Yeah, but what about non-fiction? Well, this is why I thought about Stephen King. I'm sure he wasn't expecting a gas stop to net a new story idea, just as I didn't expect to come up with a new book idea last week when driving my car. I was listening to an author being interviewed on the radio, and I got an idea for another book. It has absolutely nothing to do with the book on the radio, which was about spirituality, but in my brain, one thing led to another, and suddenly I realized I was formulating an idea for another book on sustainable living. With non-fiction, the challenge of writing a book is not coming up with ideas. Most non-fiction authors are full of ideas we want to share! The challenge is figuring out how to make those ideas accessible to readers. And as I was listening to this other writer talk about how he wanted to help people live a more peaceful life, I started getting ideas about how to package my thoughts on living a more sustainable life.
This is one reason it is absolutely necessary for writers to read.
I hope it seems really obvious that the more you read, the better writer you will become mechanically. But the more you read, the more you will learn about expressing yourself too. When you read a book that you really like, ask yourself what you like about it. And when you read a book that you don't want to finish, really ask yourself why. I am currently reading a book that I am rapidly losing interest in, and I'm getting a better understanding of how much personal information in a book is too much. I've always enjoyed books that made me feel like I was getting to know the author, but there are some things that I now realize I really don't want to know!