Be a Better Writer By Becoming a Better Reader
Stephen King said it best: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
I know what you might be thinking: “Stephen King makes his living as a writer! He doesn’t have to work around a 9–5 job. It’s hard enough for me to find time to write, never mind read.”
But unfortunately, Stephen King is also right. As important as it is to keep writing, it’s just as important to keep reading. Here’s how.
Explore new genres & authors
Every new genre will allow you a glimpse into a different audience and their preferences. There are few ‘purist’ readers who only read one single genre. Most readers are generalists, with different aspects of different genres that appeal to us. If you’re a fantasy writer, consider reading some historical romance. If you’re a contemporary young adult writer, try reading a mystery thrillers.
Some of the most innovative, impactful writing has come as a result of thinking outside the box and trying something new.
As for exploring new authors, a friend of mine recently said she was taking a short break from white male authors. I thought that was a great idea. There’s tremendous value in reading work by authors with different demographics and experiences. Representation matters more than ever, and reading #OwnVoices fosters empathy and better understanding.
So, break out of your comfort zone. The more diverse your reading, the more multifaceted your writing.
Make time for reading with ‘No TV Tuesday’
After a long day at work, it can be tempting to plop down in front of the television. But once a week, I don’t give myself the option.
I devote every Tuesday evening to reading. Even if I only manage an hour, it still feels like a triumph—because instead of reading so that my eyes get tired and I drift off to sleep, I’m reading because I’m caught up in the story.
If reading is just a sleep aid, you’re doing it wrong.
If you do get caught up in your book, then great! That’s incredibly valuable to your own writing. Think about what kept you reading, what piqued your interest. Which characters did you find engaging, and why? You can learn how other authors hooked their readers, and apply the insights to your work.
Don’t finish every book
Some people bludgeon their way through books, no matter what. I actually used to be one of those people, but when I finally let that go, my reading habits changed for the better.
The main reason I struggled to read more was simple — the books I was choosing weren’t interesting to me.
So, I started dropping books, even if they were classics. Even if a friend said “you HAVE to read this!”. Even if I thought that reading the book would make me a better writer.
I didn’t finish 11 books in 2020. It didn’t matter if I was a couple of chapters in, or halfway, or nearly done—if I started avoiding my kindle, I moved on.
As a result, I got to better books faster, and finished 46 books in 2020! That was a big increase from years past.
If you try this tactic, think about what made you lose interest in the book. Was the language too dense? Did the plot languish? Were the characters not behaving in a believable way? And finally, what could the writer have changed to keep you reading? This is all really great info to consider for your own writing.
Invest in an eReader
This was a true game changer for me. Whether you choose a Kindle, or a Kobo, or something else entirely, eReaders are lightweight and portable, cost-effective, and totally customizable. You can carry hundreds of books with you at all times. You can buy books from Amazon or borrow from the library. You can increase text size and screen brightness.
The benefit of an eReader for a writer is that, for better or worse, it strips a book back to the words on the page.
There’s a good chance that your reader won’t choose the same font that you painstakingly selected for the physical copies. Your reader will glimpse your cover, but chances are they won’t see it every single time they pick up the book. If your reader gets confused midway through, they can’t as easily thumb back through the pages. These are all great reminders for your writing! You want every reader to be able to enjoy your book to the fullest, regardless of whether they have a digital or physical copy.
Think about why you chose to read the books you did
As a writer, half the battle is getting someone to pick up your book. Publishers know the importance of choosing the right title, writing an engrossing blurb for the back, getting the right cover art — all of these things make a huge difference in whether someone will pick your book off the shelf.
When you cultivate a productive reading habit, you can identify why you picked up the books you chose to read: was it the cover art? The intriguing title? The awesome premise? Was it a friend’s recommendation?
Think about how to make your book appealing to readers like yourself. What would make you pick up your own book?
There are so many benefits to cultivating a regular reading practice as a writer, that go far beyond story structure and plot development. Hopefully these tips help accelerate your reading practice, and subsequently inspire your work.