Reading: A necessity for a Writer

reading
Reading, whether it be novels, news, blogs or any other form is incredibly important for writers and non writers alike. There’s no denying the adage that, ‘to be a writer, you must first be a reader.’ Living vicariously through fiction is not only stress reducing and entertaining but can be really educational. Not having tried this but, I’m pretty sure Dan Brown has taught me to navigate Paris, Rome and Washington through his books (o:

On a more serious note through reading is something that, as a writer, is paramount when it comes to learning the craft and judging where your skill level sits compared to many of the prolific and great novelist. I don’t compare myself directly because that would be depressing but I look to see what I feel I’ve gotten to grips with whether it be characterization, plot twists, story arc or the myriad of other literary aspects that go into developing a story of any length. This analysis teaches me where I need to focus my learning efforts.

Some writers read at a phenomenal pace. One recent response to a blog post I read said the commenter read 6-7 books a week. I would love to be able to do this but, sadly, I’m not. I get through, on average 1-2 a week of varying lengths. This is on top of online reading including blogs, sites and other creative writing pieces such as online magazines, short stories and poetry. All of this goes into making me a better writer by teaching me what constitutes the good, the bad and the ugly of writing in general.

In regards to genre of novel or story, I feel it’s beneficial to move around. For most of my teenage years and beginning of my twenties I only read horror. I couldn’t get enough of it. Eventually though, nothing shocked me unless is was written for shock value alone and if so, I wouldn’t bother reading it anyway. Once I found I needed something else I decided to read other genres and I think I’m much better for it. Although I haven’t always enjoyed the read, I feel I gleaned some knowledge about the craft of writing from it. The knowledge may be subconscious and not overtly acknowledged but I feel it is still influential.

This leads me to identify the way a reader reads vs the way a writer reads. As a reader I simply want to be swept up in the story, to lose myself for a while. As a writer I want the same as a reader but I also want to look more deeply into how the author created their work. Open the hood to see what’s underneath. Sometimes this is easy, most of the time its difficult and I find I need to know the authors work well in order to do this effectively.

So what do you read and how often or how much? Also do you read across genres or stick to a particular one?

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25 comments

  1. I only read crime novels. I find that concentrating on my genre helps my writing. For instance, I just read the other day that head-hopping (that’s the term that was used, not mine) is fine in Romance novels. If I did that while writing crime– I’d look like I didn’t know what I was doing! I don’t know if this is true with other genres, that they all have their own mini-rules or not. But just in case, I’d hate to pick up a bad habit. I have enough “writing tics” already. :0 I don’t need another.

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  2. Due to a lot of time being taken up by many things, I tend to get anywhere between 2 and 6 read every month. It depends on length. I also tend to read mostly science fiction and fantasy, but also enjoy classics.

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  3. I’m one of those that reads 6-7 a week because I’m a speed reader. While that helps with quantity, it’s not always good for depth, which is another reason I re-read books over and over. My brain just will NOT slow down enough for me to analyze on the first go-round, probably because I’m so caught up as a reader, like you said, that I just want to see how it ends.

    I typically read middle grade and YA fantasy, as well as a significant amount of Christian fiction. I do read popular, secular books, as well, but if there’s a lot of sex or foul language, I have a really hard time getting past that.

    I also read poetry (Rudyard Kipling is my fave), as well as historical fiction, non-fiction, comic books, romance (clean), children’s books, biographies, and, of course, the Bible.

    I’ve never been a fan of the suspense/horror/murder mystery genre, but I am taking slow steps to try a few of them. Although I’m the biggest scaredy cat on the planet, I think it would be beneficial to break into the areas that unnerve me more.

    Since I write middle grade, romance, and dystopian futures, I read primarily those, but I often venture into other territories.

    Great post! Sorry for the long comment.

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    • I’m a massive fan of dystopian stories of any genre. Hugh Howey’s Wool is fantastic for that or Stephen Kings the Stand. Speed reading never came naturally to me so I plod along. I tried reading Wolf Hall which nearly killed me….

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  4. You’re absolutely right. As writers, we should read everything we can get our hands on. There’s the old adage, “Read what you want to write.” But that excludes whole other worlds. I’m a firm believer in reading everything: newspapers, academic texts, fiction of every genre, poetry, etc. It fills our creativity banks and teaches us what works and what doesn’t — even if we didn’t particularly like what we read.

    As a teenager, I predominantly read fantasy or general fiction, but I ventured out into the classics in college, and now I will read pretty much anything I can get my hands on (though romance isn’t really my thing). Poetry is my secret (or not so secret) love.

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  5. Interesting question. You know, my partner can read 3-4 books a week, and all at the same time (go from one to the other, mid-read). I am a painfully slow reader. A couple books a month (I’m ashamed to admit). But I read short stories everyday, at least 2 if I can. I enjoy contemporary literary fiction. I love a story that deals with the human condition, or the downward spiral a series of characters deals with (most recently “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt – a masterpiece). It helps with my writing immensely. BUT, on the off time that I want some fun, easy reads, I’ll pick up Stephen King (because, let’s face it, it’s Stephen King) or Janet Evanovich (her Plum series are hilarious).

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  6. I try not to stick to just one genre (it feels waaaay to claustrophobic for me). Whatever book grabs my attention and sweeps me away is usually the right book for me. Afterwards, I return back to the novel and try to figure out what grabbed my attention in the first place. How often do I read? Well…that depends on my schedule.

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  7. Last year, I read over 200 books in my genre as well as over 200 short stories. I’m about burnt out. I’m attempting to stick mostly with my genre, but sci fi and dystopia along with some paranormal are my escapes. I also read writing craft books.

    My goal is always a book a week. I go through spans of time where I read nothing book wise for a month or more, then I suddenly catch back up on my goal. I read fast. I can kill 300 pages in a day. To me that is fast.

    I’ll easily get lost in the book and forget to read as a writer.

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  8. Hi David,
    I have seven books distributed around the house and I read whichever one is at hand. Two are about writing, one is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, two are Christian, there’s John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, and the last is called West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Hemingway said it was so good it made him embarrassed to call himself a writer. I’m hoping for better writing through osmosis.

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  9. The only time I am not reading is when I’m attempting to lose consciousness for a few hours every night–and even then, someone is usually reading to me. It’s like a disease: the more I’m aware of words, the more I see them absolutely everywhere, spreading. Story, for me, is not just that which is bound between to covers, it is constantly unfolding and expanding everywhere, everyday.
    Terrific post, David! Cheers

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