Thursday, October 16, 2008

How I Learnt to'Write or Read as Writers Read by Robert W. Walker

You read. If you want to be a writer, you read. Then you read more. After this, you sit or stand or lay down on the hammock with a book and guess what, you read. Writers who eventually get published have been lifelong readers and so lifelong learners. But writers who succeed not only read, they read as a writer.

If you are confused by that last statement, pick up ten or so How To Write books from your local library and look at the last chapter of each. Most will end with READ like a WRITER, and if they don’t end the book with this chapter, they will begin with it, and if not, look for this chapter somewhere in the How To. Read like a writer, which could be extended to OBSERVE like a writer, be tuned in like a writer. Reading like a writer means keeping a close pulse on how the guy who wrote the book I just read moved me…moved me to laughter here, to tears there, to mixed emotions in another scene—intending it so. Read with a close eye to how another author, someone who has come before you created a memorable character, a hated character, a beloved character, a beloved or disturbing setting, a fight scene, a love scene.

I “cut my writing teeth” on Dumas, Twain, H.G. Wells, Conan Doyle, Dickens (all of whom moved me). If I was particularly moved by a scene or a dialogue section or the setting of the stage, or the language itself, I would re-read that “moving” moment in the story, asking “How did Dumas do that to me?” or “How did Twain pull that out of me?”

With my City Series – City for Ransom, Shadows in the White City, and City of the Absent—soon to be E-books from HarperCollins, I began to fulfill a prophecy by none other than Dean R. Koontz. Dean said to me once, “Calm down, kid. You don’t do your best work until you turn fifty.” He was so right (by the way, Dean Koontz was one of the many authors I READ as a WRITER reads, to learn from). The City Series came after I had come well into my fifties. What I learned from writing this trilogy was that I could take ALL the lessons learned from the masters before me and put those lessons to work for me. I believe the City books my best work to date. I hope that some young writers some day pick up one of the City titles and reads it as a writer reads and sees clearly how I managed to pull tears or fears or both from him or her.

My next title returns me to the present and back from the year 1893 to 2009, current day Atlanta and the darkest woods anywhere on the Georgia-Tennessee border area in DEAD ON. Dead On was intended to please another author I call friend, Ed Gorman, founder of Mystery Scene Magazine and a man who has helped more mystery and horror writers than anyone on the planet. DEAD ON is dedicated to Ed who called me up and asked me to please send him something he could publish for me via Five Star/Tekno Books.

Now it may seem less than humble of me to offer anyone here who is a young author an opportunity to learn from me in a fun-filled way, but as Twain was loathe to say, “I was born humble, but it wore off.” Such is the case with my turning 60 on November 17th – cards and letters welcomed. I have been putting fiction on blank pages now since my 11th birthday. That’s about fifty years. I submit to you that reading DEAD ON could well teach you something about dialogue (Tess Gerritsen, who loved Dead On, particularly loved the dialogue, calling it rapid-fire fun), setting—Atlanta and the Georgia woods—characterization (Ken Bruen particularly loved the characters), the voice, plotline, beginning, ending, and more. And you can do so FREE, as the book is being offered to any reader willing then to say a word—either pro or con—about the book to one other person, book club, chat group, or other party. The free form is in the form of a pdf
file which with the click of a click goes right to you, and you can convert it to use on a palm pilot, a sony reader, a kindle or your PC and printer.

If you are seriously interested in improving your writing, you could not do better than to get your hands on the pre-publication E-book ARC (the final version), and it is available right beside the fantastic cover art that goes along with it at

Rob Walker


Morgan Mandel said...

As soon as I seriously started writing, I read as a writer. Sometimes it spoils things because I see mistakes that shouldn't be there. When it's a really good book, I appreciate it more.

Morgan Mandel

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

How true, how true. However, I have now learned to turn off "my editor" brain when I'm just reading for fun.

Thanks, Rob, for all the nice comments on DorothyL.