Updated: Aug 30, 2020
The past few years I haven’t read as much as I used to. When I was younger, I read all the time. I would often check out the maximum number of books allowed at the library. In my college days, I continued to be a voracious reader because I enjoyed choosing books to read that weren’t required reading from my professors (not that the required reading was necessarily bad). But, after college, reading fell to the wayside and became nothing more than a hobby I had once enjoyed. Last year, I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which rekindled my love for reading. Several months before reading this book, I had also gotten back into the habit of writing almost every day.
In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he says, “Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” If you’re a writer and haven’t read On Writing, I wholeheartedly recommend you read it. In my opinion, it’s the best craft book about writing, but I may be a little biased. I agree with King’s statement about reading because of everything you learn while reading. If you haven’t read many books, but want to write, where are you going to learn how to develop your voice, what to do (and what not to do) in your book, tropes to follow, or even the basic format to use for your genre? By reading books from successful authors, you can learn what works and what readers enjoy.
However, reading a lot is not just about studying the craft of writing, learning proper spelling and grammar, when to start a new paragraph, or how to appropriately use dialogue tags. The more you read, the better you will understand what makes a book great. Reading as a writer helps you appreciate more than just a good story, but also the art of creating a plot twist, developing characters that readers will identify with, empathize with, find relatable, and maybe even fall in love with. Reading also helps writers understand pacing, story structure, things like exploring the lines between good and evil and blurring them, as well as crafting cliffhangers that leave the reader unable to put the book down.
Another way reading helps writers improve their craft is by expanding their vocabulary. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I looked up the definition of a word in a dictionary while reading as a kid. This helped give me a strong vocabulary at a young age. I still look up the definitions to words I’m unsure of, but it’s a lot easier now to get a fast answer with Google. Sometimes it is also possible to uncover the meaning of a word with context clues and looking at how it is used in the book. I think this aspect of reading is a benefit for any reader, but especially writers trying to improve their vocabulary for their own books.
Reading allows people to experience situations and settings that are nothing like their own lives or their hometown. With a book, you can learn about different cultures and people with different backgrounds. You can visit Australia, France, New Zealand, or Antarctica. You can learn about marriage, love, loss, pain, grief, racial issues, mental health struggles, and so much more. Reading provides a window into the lives of a multitude of people.
Reading also provides inspiration. Many creative hobbies inspire writers with new story ideas and sometimes can help them work out plot issues. Reading inspires writers when they fall in love with a book. Some writers may dream of the day when readers love their words the same way they adore the words in their most treasured books.
If you’re a writer, do you read often? How do you think reading helps you improve as a writer?