3 reasons writers should read

3 reasons writers should read - the writersaurus

why writers should read

In regards to the question of whether or not writers should read, there are two schools of thought. The first freely admit to not reading much themselves. They don’t have time to both read and write, they say. Any hour spent with their noses pointed at the open spine of a book is time they could spend ‘butt in chair, hands on keyboard.’ Not only that, but reading the work of other writers might, gasp, actually influence them. (The horror!)
The second type think reading is a necessity, and welcome that influence. This includes writers like Stephen King, who says (in his writing manifesto, On Writing) that reading a lot is one of the two things would-be writers must do (the other is write a lot.)
I’ll say right-off that here at The Writersaurus, I am firmly in that second camp. Unfortunately, it seems that our numbers here in camp ‘writers should read’ are dwindling, according to this article from Salon. More and more of the writers in my life claim they just don’t have time for it, including the keynote speaker at my company’s last staff day, a former employee-turned New York Times bestselling author. I won’t name names, but she confided to the microphone that she had long ago traded in her own bookshelf for a *Netflix subscription.
Accusations of hypocrisy aside, I feel bad for these writers. How can they hope to improve if they don’t study the masters of their craft? Professional violinists can’t afford to quit practicing after getting a gig with a symphony – neither can writers quit reading after they get that first book published.
Just in case you need some convincing, here are three reasons writers need to read.

reason writers should read # 1: deliberate reading helps writers learn

There’s a common view that, unlike painting or playing an instrument, writing is a skill that you either have or don’t have. Stephen King and Jack Kerouac emerged from the womb genius fully formed, the only thing preventing them from writing Carrie and One the Road being the inability to hold a pencil due to under-developed hands.
This attitude is extremely damaging. It leaves some writers believing that their stories are perfect- plot, character, and writing flaws be-damned, and others thinking that trying to learn from reading means they lack that crucial talent in the first place.
Newsflash: no matter how good you are at writing now, you can always improve your skills. Each new skill mastered opens the door to a new layer of nuance and technique that you weren’t even aware existed a few months ago.
Reading helps you discover these new tools, and see them used in-action. To go back to the painting metaphor, if human artists had never studied and learned from the techniques of others, we’d still be using rocks to carve stick figures into cave walls.

reason writers should read #2:reading inspires writing

One of the greatest things about deliberate reading is that it makes you want to write more. It lights a fire under your butt. You see a technique that was used well, and you want to see if you can make it work in your own writing. Conversely, you might see a wasted opportunity, or something that didn’t work out quite so well, and want to see if you can do it better.
Anything that gets you writing is a great thing.

reason writers should read #3: reading makes writing more fluent

Have you ever tried learning a second language?
Now imagine trying to do so by only speaking it yourself, and never by listening to anyone else. Sounds hard, right? Just think of the pronunciation errors. That’s because you’d be missing out on a whole different learning experience. Listening to someone speak activates totally different sections of the brain, while utilizing and strengthening neurons and pathways that help you speak.
The same thing happens with writing. By reading, you absorb the rhythm of the written word. Which means that when you do sit down to write, you’ll be both faster and better at it. You’ll just have a feel for how words fit together on the page.

Now that we’ve gone over the benefits of deliberate reading, be on the lookout for our posts on what deliberate reading is and how to read better in order to improve your writing.

Interested in specific examples of deliberate reading? Check out our narrative analysis series, where we look into the narrative strengths and weaknesses of stories like Outlander, Better Call Saul, Doctor Who, and others in order to become better writers.

*Note: when I refer to reading, I generally mean consuming stories in any form, including television, cinema, and audio formats. However, I believe that if you’re going to be a writer, at least some of the stories you consume should be in the format of the written word. Let me put it this way – it’s difficult to compose a classical symphony when you only listen to death metal via your iPod. Ya dig?


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H. Duke
H. Duke writes fantasy, horror, and more. Her works include the weird west / urban fantasy serial mashup, Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer and the Christmas horror collection, Things on the Shelf: Three Tales of Christmas Terror, as well as the forthcoming Pagewalker series. She wrote the first season of Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer while living in Arizona with her husband, Giru, and a shiny black dog named Jupiter. To see what she's up to now, visit her website.

3 comments for “3 reasons writers should read

  1. Donald Bell
    April 23, 2016 at 7:56 PM

    I agree with your comments, In 1955 I went to Berlin to study but did not speak German. with a dictionary in hand, a grammar book in the other and going to movies only in German and spending time only with Germans I mastered the language accent free in two years.

    yes I read novels etc when I write.\


  2. hdziuk
    April 26, 2016 at 6:33 AM

    Danke for the comment, Donald! I commend you on picking up German so quickly – Ich kann ein bisschen Deutch, aber ich spreche nicht fliessend. I’ve always been too shy to really get the exposure that I need to be truly fluent in any of the languages I’ve studied.

  3. Donald Bell
    April 30, 2016 at 12:13 AM

    A language must be learned at two levels: the street every day manner of speaking and the formal cultivated form found in the classics: Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, unsw.. Also, my German coach in the opera said I should be careful who I chose as a female companion. Nicht eine die in einer Wurststube auf der Strasse arbeitete sonder eine Frau die in einem Buero oder Sonstiges beschaeftigt ist.

    Berlin offered all kinds of approaches.


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