The most commonly accepted writing advice is reading more will help you become a better writer.
Most writers are naturally drawn to reading. For a lot of us, it’s why we want to be writers. Just like people in the film industry like to watch movies, we love to read books.
There’s little arguing that we should read more. So the real question is what should we read to help our writing get better? This is where the advice varies.
I’ve seen everything from only read in the genre you’re writing, to only read new books, to read everything. I fall into the read everything category, and here’s why.
Read the genre you write
Of course you need to read the genre you write. Most genres have associated writing tropes and themes, for instance in romance you may have enemies to lovers and in fantasy the chosen one. We need to be familiar with the topes in the genre we write so we know what to include and what to avoid. There will be certain expectations we want to meet by sticking close to tradition, but we also need to circumvent other commonly used elements to make our work different. The only way to do this is to know and understand the genre. In order to do that, you need to read it.
However, I think by limiting ourselves to only reading the genre we write, we miss out on learning from other writers. Especially, with so many mesh-ups on the market. There are so many ways to look at story, and by broadening the books we read, we can grow our creativity.
Read new books
Yes, you need to read new books. Imagine what your writing voice would sound like if you only read books from a hundred years ago. No one would read it. Staying up to date with current books helps you get into the flow of trends, not only of language usages and style, but story trends as well. You don’t necessarily want to try to pick the next trend, instead, let the current ideas inspire you.
But you also don’t want to only read new books. There are advantages of reading older books, especially those that were groundbreaking for their time. Or those that have laid the bedrock of your genre. And sometimes, going back to the roots can bring back ideas that feel new again.
Why should you read everything? Because it’s fun. And whether you’re reading nonfiction or fiction, it broadens your knowledge.
Try to digest what you’ve read, and find takeaways you can use in your own writing. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t. Look for places that show technique. Pay attention to wording, theme, grammar. Learn from the product.
But, if you treated every book you read as a case study, it’d turn reading into a chore. It’s okay to sink into a book and simply enjoy it. Even though you’re not consciously doing it, you’re still learning from those books too. With most things, the goal is balance. Read for fun, read to learn, and be sure to make time to write.
Books that made me a better writer
Every book I’ve read has made me a better writer, however, some stand out more than others. Mostly, the ones I’ve actively thought about in terms of writing style. Here are a few callouts.
- Hunger Games – this is the first book I remember reading that was written in first person present tense. I knew tense and viewpoint mattered, but this was the first time it sunk in how much impact this can have on a story.
- Ella Minnow Pea – this author had to know this story down to the literal letter. It really hit home, how much the writer needs to control. Not every writer needs to consider the letters, but they definitely need to consider word choice, grammar, theme, style, character, plot, stakes, setting, etc. Writers do not sit down and simply type out a masterpiece. T
- Eye of the World – this is a looong book, with the characters repeatedly stopping at inns, and the ending is a bit rushed. However, it is the first book in one of the most successful fantasy series, ever. It taught me that people will stick around for a long book and or series if done right. Meaning, if it has a proper payout promise and characters that draw you in, people are willing to come along for the journey.
- Life of Pi – this book has one of the best endings ever. You thought you had one story, but by the time you read the ending it’s like it rewrote itself. The author had to know the story inside and out in order to achieve this unfolding. It’s almost like he wrote two novels.
When I say read more, I’m not meaning to crowd out everything else in your life. You still have to make time to write to be a writer. But think about creating a writing goal, maybe doing one of those book bingo cards. Even if you could stretch yourself one book over last year it’d be a success.
One of the easiest ways for me to get more books read, was audio books. These are great when driving, exercising, cleaning, walking the dog, or while doing some other hobby.
I also love ebooks on my phone for an easy transportation method. They are great in doctor’s offices or sitting in parking lots.
Another thing I like to do is check out a stack of books from the library. I start them, but inevitably not all will hold my interest. However, usually there’s one in the stack that will, and I focus on that one and move the others to my to read list for another day.
New Year’s is coming up. Consider adding this to your resolution goals.