It’s no secret that to become a better writer, you must read. And the rest of this post will argue that reading isn’t the only thing you gotta do to become a better writer.
That’s right, kiddies! ::wheels in a TV on a rickety cart like a substitute teacher::
WE’RE WATCHING MOVIES TOO!
But that’s not where we’re stopping.
In order to become a better writer, you must read. And watch shows and movies. And listen to records that give you butterflies in your stomach. And stay up super late at night having philosophical conversations on the back porch with a very good-looking person after you’ve consumed some jazz cabbage.
To become a better writer, you must read. And appreciate good art wherever it is. And pay attention to how people actually talk. And live your damn life.
So, yeah. To be a good writer, you must read. But there will be no point in this post where I argue that you should do anything that an English teacher taught you.
That isn’t to say that we’re throwing out all those teachings.
It is to say that there’s a wide chasm between writing a five-paragraph essay and creating the type of thing people actually want to read.
(Sorry if you thought those essays you wrote in high school mattered.)
So, if you’re here and itching to hit the comments section with all manner of grammatical and stylistic issues you take with this post, may I encourage you to simmer the fuck down?
Seriously. You’re about to learn something.
To Become a Better Writer, You Must Read
No one is saying that writers shouldn’t read. In fact, writers are in the business they’re in because they like to read. One day they picked up a book, and it’s been all downhill ever since.
But we need to talk about why that is.
Does Reading Make You a Better Writer?
Reading is a weird thing.
And before you get all ableist in my comment section, there is no real way to read. Paper books, eBooks, and audiobooks all count. Reading happens in your head, and it doesn’t matter how the story gets there.
And when the story gets in your head, you stop being the person you normally are for a while. I’m not saying you completely transform, but you identify with characters who aren’t you. You walk in the shoes of someone else, as it were, and from there, you learn something.
Reading expands your depth of experience and gives you ideas you didn’t have before. And reading is one of the few ways to see how a writer engineered information in the way they did to make you perceive the story world the way you did.
Reading is practically how to become a better writer 101. But why?
Why Is Reading Important for Writing?
While movies and TV shows start with writing, the finished product isn’t just the words. But with reading, you can see how the writer built the story world, moved the plot forward, and told their story. There’s no extra story elements, like a musical score or lighting, or shot framing. It’s just the words on the page, and you are getting the whole story just by hallucinating wildly while consuming the words.
And without seeing how writers do it, it’s hard to sit down and write a story.
There are two things to this: First, it’s about filling the creative well. You have to have inspiration to create. And consuming stories is a great way to find the sort of things that fill you up and help you tell a story.
But secondly, reading is the act of teaching yourself how to write. Make no mistake–if you want to be a writer, you’ll have to practice writing. But You won’t have anything to practice if you don’t know where to even start.
Reading gives you that place to start.
How Does Reading Influence Writing?
Now, to be sure, the things you read will influence your writing. The style, the word choice, the subject matter–all of it will seep into your ideas and shape the work you do.
This can be good or bad.
Clever writers can make you look clever when you’ve picked up on their style. But bad/irrelevant/boring writers can have the opposite effect.
There’s always this loud cry to read the classics if you’re a writer. And while I will say that I do enjoy some classics, that’s not all you should read. For one, Jane Austen or Charles Dickens probably wouldn’t get published today. Their style isn’t what the market is currently looking for.
Instead, focus on reading the writers who are doing what you want to do.
Does reading improve writing skills? Yes.
Does reading the sort of things you want to write improve your writing skills? Not yes but hell yes.
That isn’t to say that you should only read one very particular subgenre or type of work. It is to say that you will learn more from the writers who are shaping the corner of the industry you want to be a part of.
What to Read If You Want to Be a Writer
To be clear: Read everything you can get your hands on that won’t put you in a reading slump. I hate it when I grab something off my shelf only to find that it’s simply not for me, and makes me dread the act of reading. But I don’t realize that I keep actively choosing not to read because I don’t want to read the book I’m reading.
It’s silly, but I know I’m not the only one who does that.
Instead, read broadly. All genres. Doesn’t matter if it’s high or low art. Just read it. The more you read, the more you’ll know what kind of writer you are. And if you want to be a writer, the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply read, no matter what it is.
What to Read to Become a Better Writer
::leans in close and pulls open the lapel of her trench coat to make you an illicit offer::
Now, if you want to become a better writer, you must read the stuff that challenges you. Find books with tough subject matter. Find books that challenge you, not just with the subject matter, but with the style.
These types of books are guaranteed to put you in a reading slump, so be ready for that. But they’re also the types of books that will help you stretch and flex your muscles when it comes to writing.
Craft books aren’t a bad option either. Books on writing can give you insight into the processes of other writers and help you look at your work in new ways. Check out these best books for writers to read, the best books on creative writing, and these books that made me a writer for some ideas.
What Do You Consume to Be a Better Writer?
Do you have some book/movie/TV show/record recommendations for writers? What kinds of media have helped you improve as a writer?