Reading Towards Better Writing

Touching on the most fundamental rule for writers: reading helps make us better writers. Sadly, this simple rule has escaped many in their attempts at becoming writers. It is a mistake no aspiring author/poet should make. Below is a blog post that inspired my reaction on reading as a writer:

Some of the time, reading is what provokes the inspiration to write. I know that my first inspiration to write came in 5th grade, when I discovered the wonderful world of Bruce Coville. He is a young adult fantasy writer who specialized in writing about unicorns. Needless to say, his ability to create a world unlike any in existence lead me to my passion for writing. However, the love of writing never would have developed, if not for my love of reading.

For a few writers, their belief is that writing just happens. You don’t read the work of the competition or important authors before them. They don’t think that taking the time to read is beneficial because they don’t have a love for reading as a foundation. Just think of how many writers you have met that just don’t seem to “get it”. They spend their days sitting at their computer, talking about their ideas, but never seem to get it on the page.

If you've seen this scene from Family Guy, you know these guys don't read to help become better writers. They're tools!

They usually won’t be published, and they can’t figure out why. “No one understands my style, my voice,” they will chant. My response is– “You don’t have any of that if you don’t know what has been written before you.”

No, I’m not talking about the classics, or the stories we reading in high school. I’m talking about influential books for the craft. Authors who have revolutionized your particular genre are vital to understand your own writing. Take for example, my ignorance in the science fiction genre. I haven’t read nearly enough of the classic sci-fi authors. I recently picked up Issac Asimov, and I hadn’t heard of him in great detail before I began searching for great science fiction books to read. Pages into one of his books, I understood the complexity necessary to create a great science fiction book. Within minutes I learned a new facet of the genre I was attempting to write.

Some of the most important skills we can learn as writers come from the time spent reading. While the blog post above states that any reading can help, I’m going to focus on just reading in your genre can shape your writing skills. As I have mentioned before I can break down the types of reading into three categories.  Reading as a reader (for pleasure), reading as a student (for analysis), and reading as a writer (to absorb skills/ideas).

The three key elements of the influence of reading, according to the blog post:

1.) Reading with a purpose is useless- His first point is imperative to learning from reading. If you read with something in  mind (other than reading the book) you’re going to limit the experience. Reading as you would for pleasure is important because it develops your love of reading.

2.) Language is the key to writing- The easiest skill you can learn from other writers is how to handle language. As budding writers, we are clumsy (well I know I am) with language. We don’t have the experience to use our words wisely. So, to gain the experience we read what the best writers have done. At the same time, reading bad use of language teaches us how NOT to write, which is equally important.

3.) Read suggestions from other writers-This element is especially helpful is bringing variety to the normal type of books your read. It also allows you to converse and connect with other writers. This bond is crucial to learning not only from the books, but from the writers who recommend them.

I will add only a few additions to his list of how reading helps your writing.

4.) Read contemporary books, and ones in your genre of choice- By reading contemporary books (not necessarily on the best-seller’s list) you learn what books are being chosen by the general audience. You also learn what openings are available in the market for you particular style or ideas. Reading the books in your genre (competition) allows you to understand your audience in an intimate level. For example, werewolves and vampires are HOT in the fantasy genre. While they have always been fairly popular, it is because of one contemporary series (  :/ Twilight ) that has driven trends in the genre. It is vital to know where you fit now in the market as well as what readers look for in stories being published. Make sure you take the ideas of the competition in stride. It’s not meant to change your writing to what they’re doing. You can find the differences an advantage as well as what you could write differently.

So, go out and read. Read old books, new ones, and ones your friends tell you are good reads. Speaking of, is a great place to compare books you’ve read, and get suggestions from people across the globe.

Happy writing AND reading!


Filed under Idea of the Day

11 responses to “Reading Towards Better Writing

  1. “The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t.” – Mark Twain

    Yeah, I feel that – especially with the old books. good post.

  2. TheOthers1

    I agree for all the reasons stated! Reading makes you better at the craft of writing. Nice post.

  3. So very true. I know a few writers who struggle to write much at all, and when they do it’s a bit, well, mediocre. And it has occurred to me quite often that when I talk to these same people about what books they have been reading lately, they always respond with “oh, I’m too busy to read at the moment.” Which is ridiculous – you have to make time to read just like you have to make time to write. And while you can read without writing, you can’t write without reading.
    Personally I think it is also very important to challenge yourself in your reading, to read books you normally wouldn’t. I know a lot of writers who are just reading the exact same kind of novel over and over again. I don’t just mean sticking to one genre, but, say, I know one person who only reads books that have vampires and werewolves in them, and many of those books are not very good at all. You have to read good books, and a wide variety of books, to grow as a writer. Most genres these days have so many sub-genres, and I think all these sub-genres of whatever genre you write in should be explored as well, to get a more holistic grasp of how to write within that genre, and how to capture the attention of your audience.
    Anyway I’m just rambling and probably reiterating what you have said.
    Great post! 🙂

  4. I can agree with this to a point. Stephanie Meyer wrote a horrible book about vampires because she never read about them before, or bothered to even look up what they were in literature. So in that sense, I do think reading other people in your genre is useful. I myself look at other fantasy writers to help me gauge my story’s pace.
    However, I think there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed, lest we all start writing the same things. There’s being inspired by another writer, and then there’s trying to mimic her. After browsing on Inkpop for a while, it became painfully apparent that a lot of teen girls are trying to replicate Twilight, in their own words. And that just can’t be good for anyone.

    Therefore, I believe it’s most important for writers to have their own ideas first, and use other writings as a “gauge” or sorts, or as a learning tool. Of course, it always helps is said writer has a good taste level in the first place. :p

    • Well, yes I agree you can’t mimic other’s writing. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know how to do that. When I read people in my genre or authors I love, I appreciate their ideas and learn how they develop the story. I also think it comes with time to learn how to appreciate reading others in your genre. Right now we want to make out own voice and style so we know our ideas are different, but they experience you gain just with vocabulary and character development is irreplaceable when you read other writers in your genre.

  5. I think you have hit the nail on the head precisely. When I first started writing I hadn’t read a lot of SciFi or Fantasy. I’d watched a lot on the TV, but never delved into the written worlds created by the masters. Apparently, it showed in my writing as my first writer’s group pointed out so precisely. (ouch!) I have since read much more in the genres I wanted to write. I did hesitate, though, when writing my time travel tales. A friend had told me about the ‘Highlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon. She had obviously done such a fabulous job, but I was worried that I might unconsciously borrow her style of writing or her tone, so I didn’t read her stuff until I was published. I did read other YA novels, not necessarily to get ideas but to learn more about the tone of their work to make sure I would be able to reach my target audience.

    • I think it is so important for science fiction and fantasy (sci-fi more so) to know what other authors have written, especially the most influential. Like Stephenie Meyer, she didn’t read Anne Rice or even Brom Stoker to understand how to write vampire mythology. It is SO important to know what has already been written in what way to avoid unconsciously writing a copy of the story. In addition, if you don’t know what’s been written before you could completely disrespect the genre. I know my zombie-esque story has taken/will take the most amount of research because there is so much different zombie lore. I don’t want to step on too many toes or do something so absurd no one will accept it. These concerns are relieved once I read the best and worst books with zombie lore. It’s impossible to write something beneficial to the genre without know what the best authors have written, and what the readers love about it.

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