“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
It’s hard to ignore the words of this famous author, who’s penned more than 50 novels and 200 short stories, as well as one of my favorite books on the craft of writing … appropriately titled, On Writing. He’s also an author who endured a slew of rejections before publishing Carrie. King says that he makes time to read every day.
I realize that the rest of us — mere mortals in the author arena — are likely not going to be as prolific as King, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take his advice. Here’s why: What we learn as readers, we use as writers.
Though you may have graduated with a degree in English, completed a MFA in creative writing, and memorized all of the grammar rules in Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, your education doesn’t–or shouldn’t stop there. Reading is essential to an author’s growth and development.
6 Ways Reading Makes You a Better Writer
- Reading helps block writer’s block – I often find that new ideas for stories or chapters flow more freely after I’ve read a great book. Reading a fabulous novel may also help you get un-stuck from a difficult plot point or a challenging character arc. Keep a pad of paper handy while you read and jot down ideas that fascinate you. A particular phrase, setting, or character in a novel may fan your curiosity about new story ideas to explore.
- Reading helps you explore writing styles – From short chapters and staccato sentences to long, flowing descriptions – every writer has his or her own style. By paying close attention to a skilled author’s descriptions, metaphors, similes, etc. you’ll add depth and breadth to your own writing.
- Reading gives you a better vocabulary – Read novels by the masters of writing (Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens), but also current bestselling authors like Jodi Picoult, Greg Iles, and Pat Conroy. You’ll often encounter a word (or several) that you might not be familiar with, like harangue, cacophony, fastidious, and egregious. Look up the definitions and try them out for size in your own work!
- Reading helps you understand story structure – Pull out that laptop and type up a few paragraphs about how your favorite authors craft a novel from start to finish. What hooked you into the story? When did the protagonist’s world change forever? Did the author pace the book well? How did the author use tension and theme? How was the climax crafted?
- Reading gives you insight into character development – Looking for ways to get to know your own characters better? Pull out a few of your favorite novels and examine how the author introduces his or her characters. How do they grow and change over the course of the story? How do they interact with others? What does that show you about personality and motivation? How is back story used?
- Reading expands your world – Read books set in Alaska, Australia, or India. Check out books that explore Mao’s China or World War I. Read books by authors outside the United States, like Jhumpa Lahiri or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If the author’s done his or her job well, you’ll be swept away into another world. It’s amazing what books can teach us about culture, people, and place.
In addition, I highly recommend reading outside of your preferred genre. If you write historical romance, read Dystopian YA. If you write horror or suspense, try Steampunk. Like Chick Lit? Pick up a fantasy novel. You get the idea. It’s a wonderful way to stretch your brain in new directions.
But what if you’re really pressed for time? How do you work in an extra book or two a month? It’s all about priorities. Turn on the TV. Consider listening to an audiobook. Read for 15 minutes before you go to sleep. Can’t decide what to read next? Join a book club or check out Goodreads.
Finally, enjoy reading. Find books that resonate with you. Read to your kids. Swap books with friends. Lose yourself in the stories. Laugh out loud. And use what you learn.
Your readers will thank you for it.