Reading to Write – Message for Aspiring Authors

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Earlier this week, as I scrolled through my email, I came across my girl Lisa’s Guest Blog Post  on the importance of having a good story line when writing erotica.First, I invite you to check out Lisa’s post (especially if you’re an Erotica writer) to get a better understanding of what I’m about to say. Lisa drew me in and nailed it. I’ll definitely be reading up on her upcoming series. Check her post out here.

One of the reasons I don’t review Erotica (I do read it occasionally, I just don’t review it) is because I’ve had bad experiences with Indie Author writers of this genre and not just Erotica but also Urban Fiction. Many of the writers who are emerging now showcase a variety of books that have bomb book covers and invite you in to read. Sometimes I just sit back and scroll through Google looking at book covers! They’re really nice. In fact, that’s what happened to me. This one cover was so enticing I just had to see what the book was about. Then, I got into the book and I’ve never been able to finish it. Needless to say, I was turned all the way off.

When I finished reading Lisa’s post a thought struck me, “They’re not reading.” It occurred to me that there are many people who write strictly from their own experiences and backgrounds, which is great no doubt, but is it enough? Are the stories really up to par? Or is it just that relatable aspect that we love and support? From a genuine writing perspective, are these books well written? Many of them are. But many of them are not.

I love how many of these books capture the gritty realness, but I’d be remised if I didn’t mention that I also see that something is missing. That missing link is reading. Many new writers, especially of Urban Fiction though not strictly UF, do not read books to write books.  In addition,  many of us are just not broadening our reading shelves. Many writers who write these books only read these kinds of books. This isn’t a bad thing but for writers, is this enough? The truth is no, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy UF and applaud Urban Fiction’s impact on the increased reading of teens. Because of Street Lit, for instance, black teens are coming into libraries, checking out books, and increasing the number of books read.  However, for Indie Authors venturing into this genre reading books that are actually not well written, this provides for those readers no nurturing of the skill.

If you plan to write a book, it’s not enough just to read the kinds of books that you love. It occurred to me, after reading Lisa’s post, that there’s a host of young writers writing books who have never been readers and never plan to.

Note: There is NO such thing as being a writer who does not like to read. This is not judgement. This is fact. It is the same as saying that you like to teach elementary school but you don’t like children. How can you ever learn to write if you don’t read? Anyone can write and I encourage many young writers to do just that. However, to craft, a story of your own that is truly engaging will require you to study how other writers have done it. This can only be done by reading other writers.

Reading helps writers with:

Story Structure and Dialogue Tags

I didn’t learn about how to structure a basic story from a classroom, I learned it from a book. Writer’s don’t have to have a Masters in English or a Bachelors in Creative Writing. All we have to do is read more. It was books that taught me about dialogue tags before I knew what they were (not college). Sure, I didn’t know what it was called, but I did know how they were to be written.

“Writing in The Guardian, Dan Hurley pointed to recent studies confirming that the relationship between reading and intelligence is so close that it could be symbiotic. Listing out three types of intelligence most recognized by psychologists, Hurley stated that people who read overall performed better on all fronts.”

Why do you think brothers come home from Prison geniuses? All they did was read.

Plot

Speaking of story structure, a lot happens to a reader subconsciously that is then spilled into his / her writing. When a person reads, he or she is processing everything about that book to include the plot. You can learn how to write a good plot even if you haven’t been in school. Even if you knew nothing about the grammatical rules and even if you don’t understand it. Read more and you will learn from your teachers in ink: Authors.

Vocabulary

Study the language of the book and the style of the writer. Look at the vocabulary, how does the writer use the words? As a writer words are your everything anyway so you want to know how to use them. Don’t just read books to hurry up and finish them just so that you can say that you read it. Take your time with it so you can study it. Pay attention to what the author did with the words, how they made you feel, the symbolism, and multiple meanings. I have books I’ve been reading for a while now because I am studying them. I need to take my time and process how this bestselling author delivers.

Inspiration

I hear a lot about inspiration in the blogosphere but did you know that reading is the secret weapon of inspiration? Yes! Whenever you get writer’s block or can’t decide what to do next, read. It’ll jump start the creative juices. There is a way this works, though: As you read and come up with ideas, write them down! Remember, don’t just read, study what you read. Reading is the most powerful form of research for a writer.

Author Identity: Urban Fiction

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of reading a reblog to an original post I had not seen until then. After promptly liking both the reblog, as published by Whitney of Write, Live, and Love and the original as published by Ja’da of quizoticmuses (who I do believe also has a book out on Amazon), I felt compelled to reply in a separate post so that my commentary was not limited to the comments section of her blog. I thought the post served as a great conversation starter, and I do encourage others to tune in if so inclined.

But before throwing in my two cents here’s the original (used with permission):

“As a writer, I have come to understand that in every capacity the term “urban” is synonymous with “Black people.” I don’t want to be an urban fiction writer; I want to be a writer. But I’m Black writing about Black people and not exclusively Black people drama. So I feel like I’m automatically fitted into the urban fiction slot when really, I just want to write fictional stories. Period.

How do I get there?”

There are certain words that, although can be applied to various races of people, pretty much is a reference to black people depending on the context. Words like Urban, and Minority, to name a couple. Specifically, the term “Urban” is no doubt a crafty way of saying “Black” and Urban Fiction then is used to denote black fiction.

What attracted me to the post is that as a person who speaks often concerning the state of Black America, Black history, its ancient origins, slavery, freedom, and as someone who is deeply passionate about writing about Israelites or so-called blacks, for blacks, our history, and culture, I must say my writing has never been deemed Urban Fiction. This revelation caused me to think that maybe the characterization of Urban Fiction is a bit deeper than being a black writer writing about black people in general but that it is also about the style of writing.

Writing Styles

“Style is the way writing is dressed up (or down) to fit the specific context, purpose, or audience. Word choice, sentence fluency, and the writer’s voice — all contribute to the style of a piece of writing.”– Google

As I began to think about my own reading experience with UF, I am hearkened back to books that have a certain tone and feel to it. These books tend to follow a certain writing style. Though they do tend to deal with the internal struggle of the African American experience, it’s the way that these books are written that makes them different. Personally, my characterization of Urban Fiction books is based upon the language, setting, and overall surroundings incorporated into the book.

This led me to consider that, though I do find it is exclusive to the black community, Urban Fiction is a label applied to a certain kind of writing that not everyone can do. Everybody can’t write good Urban Fiction books, especially people who have not lived the life they are creating for their characters. Urban Fiction is a unique genre. While you can research for Historical Fiction and Romance or Thriller, if you write a UF novel, you had better have lived that life or be familiar with the setting in some way or it will fall flat. It will read fake.

Black Lit or Urban Fic?

What makes Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” Black Literature and Tracy Brown’s “Snapped” Urban Fiction? Just by looking at the covers alone we can see that they are two completely different kinds of works, though they are both written by African American female writers about African Americans.

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Both books are relevant in black society. Both are truths concerning black family life, struggles, and both contain black central characters. So why is Brown known as an Urban Fiction writer and Morrison a Fiction writer? Both are very talented and though Morrison is most prominent, Brown is no less valid. The classification has to do, I think, with the individual writing styles. The overall message of the book itself and the direction in which it tends to expand conversation.

I often find that black writers who write with a passion that is rooted in that hardcore truth concerning black family life, if its raw, uncut, up close and personal, then it is often labeled Urban Fiction.

Believe it or not, this is a conversation that many are already having. Bernice McFadden, the very talented author of nine critically acclaimed novels including SugarLoving DonovanNowhere Is a PlaceThe Warmest DecemberGathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, has already coined the term, “seg-book-gation”. She argues that black books are lumped into an “African American Literature” category instead of typical genres like General Fiction.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with the separation and encourage Blacks to embrace being such a set-apart people. Nothing we do is going to be normal or traditional because we are not a normal people. We are unique, creative, soulful, we are the salt of the Earth.

Triangle of Sins; Alibi and Midnight: A Gangster Love Story; Diary of a Street Diva; No Disrespect, A Street Girl Named Desire; The Coldest Winter Ever, these are all titles that represent Urban Fiction or “Street Literature” because they focus on the internal struggle of growing up Black in the Hood. They are books that are written in such a way that it captures the personal truths concerning the life many African American’s live and that’s why we love them so much.

These are books about what I like to call, “The Curses” or the struggles blacks have had to endure for centuries now. It is prophecy fulfilled and the gritty reality is what makes them appealing to the Black community.

In closing, Author Identity is all dependent on the mindset and thought processes of the author and who they are. Because Black people set the trend in a host of areas, Urban Fiction and Street Lit is another spin on the norm that African American’s have contributed to. Black people have always been the creators of what is different, creative, or uniquely separated from tradition. If Black writers of fiction are labeled Urban Fiction I believe its more so because of the uniqueness of the work itself. Urban Fiction is not just a genre, but it’s a different way of writing. So whereas one person can write about Blacks and for Blacks and never be looked at as an Urban Fiction writer, the same may not be true for someone else because their styles are different.

(Also, because reading is a HUGE part of writing, people tend to write how they read, what they experienced (or experience) in everyday life, and what they’re most knowledgeable or passionate about.)