February 1, 2016

Commandment #3: Read Often and Widely

Fact: you can't be a good writer without being a good reader.
Photo credit: aafromaa via Foter.com / CC BY

"But Jennifer," you may say, "I'm too busy to read. Any spare time I have needs to be used for actual writing."

As Stephen King famously said: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write."

What he meant, of course, is that without reading, there is no writing; without being inspired by reading a book, you might never have wanted to write one in the first place. And if you stop taking the time to read, your writing will suffer.

Everything you read is a learning experience, whether it's a novel, newspaper article, short story, poem, memoir, blog post, or something else. When you read something great, you're learning what writing style appeals to you, how an author pulled off a trick you love, and what kinds of stories you want to tell. What was it about the imagery in that story that let you feel so completely immersed in the world? How did that author suck you in so quickly that you felt like you couldn't stop turning the pages?

And it's not only important to read the good stuff. You learn from the bad, too. Things like: what made that scene fall flat? What was it about the way that character kicked over a chair that didn't seem to fit within their personality? What was it about that author's style that drove you nuts and that you want to make sure you avoid in your own writing? You can read all the textbooks and blogs you can find about the writing craft, but nothing substitutes for actually doing the hard work yourself—and reading is a big part of that work. Sometimes you might not even realize you're learning just from reading a good book, but you are.

Reading improves a writer's vocabulary and teaches a writer:
  • how to create narrative structures and characters;
  • how to develop tension;
  • and how to write compelling dialogue. 

Read often to keep your imagination active and to learn new ideas and techniques from other authors. And read widely to ensure your own writing doesn't become stagnant in reflection.


What's the best thing you've read recently? When was the last time you read something outside of your preferred genre? Tell us in the comments!

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