Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
To be a writer, you need to read. Read often. Read widely. Read what you know you’ll love. Read what you think you’ll hate. Fill your head with the rhythm of words and stories until it all can’t help but come pouring back out on the page.
The following is an adapted excerpt from Building a Writing Life: start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams available now in paperback and eBook.
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Reading makes you a better writer.
Even when you’re only reading for fun, you are learning how to craft a story, develop a character, and turn a phrase. Novels, plays, short stories, articles, non-fiction, graphic novels, audiobooks, they all level up your writing skill on a subconscious level while keeping you in the right mindset to write. And, yes, book snobs, graphic novels, eBooks and audiobooks are all “real books,” and stories consumed that way are just as beneficial to your writing life as stories consumed any other way.
Read what you want to write.
If you want to write a particular genre, it just makes sense to read as much of that genre as you can. Not only because it helps you to understand the market and where your work might eventually fit but also to learn the tricks of the trade and the hallmarks of the genre. Moreover, reading the sort of thing you’re writing can’t help but give you more ideas for your work and keep you excited to finish it. You want to write romantic thrillers? YA paranormal? Personal essays? Then that’s what you should read to see how it’s done.
Maybe your book is a non-fiction analysis of the history of women in journalism. Alongside whatever you’re reading for research for that book, for fun, you pick up a comic starring Superman’s Lois Lane. While Lois Lane is a fictional character, elements of her story will run tangential to what you are working on, suggesting new angles to think about and avenues for research. While writing a story about flower fairies, you might read a gardening book or a mermaid novel while writing an article about Olympic swimmers. In all these cases, what you’re reading isn’t directly useful to what you are writing, but runs parallel enough to give you lots of food for thought you can bring back to your original idea.
Read what you like.
In the next section, we’ll talk about how what you like to read and what you’ll be good at writing go hand in hand. Similarly, there’s nothing like reading a book you absolutely loved to invigorate you to go out there and create something of your own. After all, it’s the writing we love that made most of us want to write in the first place.
Read outside your comfort zone.
Reading something I love puts me in a writing mood, but you know what really gets me fired up to write? When I read something I hate. Books that make me angry or are just so boring or annoying that I’m exasperated they even got published all send me dashing to my keyboard. Or, sometimes, I read something I think I will hate, and instead I love it, and it opens my eyes to a whole world I’ve never considered. That’s pretty darn inspiring as well and can enrich your writing with new perspectives.
Read outside your gender, race, orientation, and nationality. Read books by and about people nothing like you. Try new formats, new genres, new authors, even if you’re sure you won’t like it. It’s all broadening your writing worldview and making you a better writer.
Read to be a better writer.
Some writers won’t read while they’re writing because they are afraid they’ll copy the other writer’s style. While I suppose that’s a risk if you are unusually impressionable, mimicking the style and voice of other authors is how you develop your own. Even if you end up borrowing their voice for a little while, you’ll usually find that your own voice will come out stronger in the end.
As you build your writing life, make sure you build in time to read. It will help you increase your writing skills, understand the kinds of stories out there, and keep you in a storytelling frame of mind. And giving your brain new stimuli to think about can sometimes be just the thing to help get you unstuck in the whatever you’re currently writing!