Why Writers Must Be Readers

Good writers are always avid readers.

Today I thought I would go into a topic that’s important for prospective writers, especially those who want to publish indie, to understand. A lot of people have the wish to write fiction and tell stories, or tell their own story in a memoir. Some of these people don’t read much, and they don’t see that as a problem because they view reading and writing as separate things.

The truth is, reading and writing are intimately related, especially if you write fiction. If you want to write well, you must read every day as well as write every day, even if you only read for fifteen minutes or half an hour. Here’s why:

  1. READING EXPANDS YOUR VOCABULARY. This is huge. This is so, so important. I have tutored children in reading, and I remember in particular a seventh grader who did not have the habit of reading at home and developing that skill. As a result, there were many words in books appropriate for his age and grade level that he simply had never heard before. He had a small vocabulary base because he didn’t read. I’ve also noticed that even in my second language, Spanish, my vocabulary multiplied and multiplied the more I read Spanish. As an author, you need to have multiple ways to describe common sentiments and objects if you want your writing not to feel stiff and repetitive. Sure, you can pick up a thesaurus, but that always seems stilted and awkward to me. Much better to have the word come naturally to mind, because you’ve seen it used in a similar instance and you know the word makes sense for what you mean it to do.
  2. READING GIVES YOU A KNACK FOR PACING. Nothing’s worse that boring your reader. It’s also bad to rush the action without giving your readers a chance to gain their footing in your story. As the writer, you know your characters, so it can be hard to judge whether pacing is off, but having a history of reading well-paced fiction will help you understand when something’s not quite right.
  3. READING SHOWS YOU WHAT’S BEEN DONE IN YOUR GENRE. An example: if, like me, you want to write fantasy, then you have to know what kinds of ideas are fresh and exciting, what is standard and expected, and what is trite, overdone, and boring. You can only know this by reading fantasy. A lot of fantasy. You’ll start to notice connections: a lot of fantasy novels have an organized religion of some type, so maybe I should consider giving my world one. It adds a sense of credibility and depth. A lot of fantasy novels have rogues and royal courts. You need to know that kind of setting and those kinds of characters interest your target audience. You should write for you, of course–not to make money or a name for yourself–but you still want your tale to entertain other people.
  4. READING GIVES YOU EXAMPLES OF GOOD CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. The more you read, the more you realize good characters show you who they are through their words and actions. A narrator doesn’t tell you what their personalities are. A narrator doesn’t tell you “This woman’s afraid of heights.” If it matters that she’s afraid of heights, then she’ll have to confront that fear, and her response–her sweating, her shaking, her comments to others who might be with her–will make that clear for her. If she’s got a vain streak, then her thoughts and interactions with others should reveal that.
  5. READING SOMETHING YOU DON’T LIKE WILL TEACH YOU WHAT NOT TO DO. For me as a writer, few things are as helpful as reading something I don’t like and then contemplating WHY I didn’t like it. Did I find it boring? Then was the pacing too slow for me, or did the characters simply not interest me? If I couldn’t find myself caring about the characters, why? Where they dry and dull? Were they well developed but simply people in the real world that I’d want nothing to do with? Was it hard to envision the world I read about because it was described poorly? This kind of awareness of all that goes into a good piece of fiction is vital if you want to write good fiction, and you can only develop that if you read.

33 responses to “Why Writers Must Be Readers

  1. I don’t understand how any writer could not want to read. That boggles my mind. You cannot be a writer without also being a reader. Period.

  2. As a fantasy writer as well as an avid reader I agree with you completely, reading should never be overlooked, especially by those who wish to write, either for themselves or as a career! Great post!

  3. Great post, Victoria! When I started writing seriously I learned so much from my favourite authors and applied it to my own writing. I am very aware of the fact that I don’t know everything, and so many times I pick up things in books that I wasn’t aware of or that inspired me to change certain aspects or characters in my own books to make them even better! I agree with Suzanne: I don’t know how any serious writer cannot spend time reading like crazy. Even Stephen King says that to become a better writer you must read, read, read all the time!! If he does it, an established, proven author, then why don’t others?

  4. I enjoy reading a good book to break up my routine and distract me for a while. The biggest obstacle is finding time to read around my writing, promoting and working a fulltime job. So, now I read a lot of short stories and save my novels for when I shut down early for a couple of days to relax and kick back. Great article, reading does keep your writing sharp.

  5. Yes x 5 to all those great points.

  6. What I’ve never understood is a lack of interest in reading by people who want to write. That’s like saying you want to swim but don’t want to get in the water.

    • I agree 100%. That has never made any sense to me at all! All thoughts of how reading improves your writing aside, why would you want to write if you don’t like books enough to read them?

  7. Pingback: Friday Favorites « Find Your Way

  8. Oh my gosh, how am i only now discovering your magnificent blog!! Couldn’t agree more with this post, adore it! Wishing you all the best!!

  9. Reading also shows you how to break the rules. Nothing is more inspiring than reading a novel that comes from the heart and yet is brave enough to break a few writing conventions, especially if the author breaks them well.

    • that is a FANTASTIC point. very true. one of the reasons it’s important to know the rules is so then when you break them, you do so consciously and with effect. Reading’s a great way to learn how that’s done.

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  11. Excellent list! I think sometimes writers forget to put their own work down, and pick up a good book!

  12. Great article, I especially like number 5. Twilight and New Moon immediately spring to mind as books I hated yet provided a road map of what not to do.

  13. Pingback: I Can’t Stop Editing This Work In Progress. GOOD SIGN! | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  14. Pingback: A writer’s favorite memory of reading | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  15. food4thesoul93

    It is very nice of you to share some of these tips with writers! In such a competitive business, it’s refreshing to find someone like you! Thanks for visiting my site as well. Continued success…


  16. I saw the discussion about spellchecking and although the discussion is gone now, I thought I’d comment about spellcheckng in your browser, because I use it myself.

    Depending on your browser, you might be able to turn on spellchecking as a browser option. I use Firefox on Windows, and in the version I use there is an option to turn on spellchecking when you are typing in forms. Bring up the Options dialog window (I access it through the Tools menu in the menu bar). On the Advanced tab, in the General sub-tab, there is an option about two-thirds of the way down labeled “Check my spelling as I type.”

    I have that option checked, so when I am typing in a form in the browser, any word that the Firefox spellchecker doesn’t like is underlined automatically as soon as Firefox realizes you have finished typing the word, such as when you type a space or period, use an arrow key to move the cursor away from the word, etc. I don’t know if other browsers have this spellchecker feature, but it’s nice in Firefox. I catch a lot of misspelled words with it when writing blog posts or comments.

    Caveat 1: If you copy and paste into a form in a web page, the pasted text might not be spellchecked. But you can place the cursor immediately after the last character of a word, type a space, and the word will be spellchecked. Then you can delete the extra space you just typed.

    Caveat 2: Some words might be underlined even though you consider them spelled correctly. For instance, the word “spellcheck” is considered a misspelled word by the Firefox spellchecker, whereas “spellchecker” is considered to be spelled correctly. I guess we’re not supposed to use spellcheck as a verb, but what’s the alternative? I don’t like writing “spell-check” as the verb when I am writing “spellchecker” as the noun. So you might choose to ignore certain “misspellings” noted by your browser.

    • thanks Michael! that other commenter was asking about spell-checking in comments πŸ™‚ it’s not an option through wordpress…. I deleted that thread on his request after I edited the comment. But this could help lots of us!

  17. Unfortunately I think I’ve been reviewing several indie authors who don’t read. Or if they do, they have not absorbed your lessons! Reading is such a fundamental part of my development as a writer I don’t understand how someone can pursue a career in the industry and ignore the lessons–both the “what to do” as well as the “what not to do” varieties–that are in every book!

  18. I totally agree. It completely floors me…. How people can think they can make it as a writer and NOT READ….

  19. I’ve had this link saved for a while now and wanted to let you know that I am including it on my Writing Resources page on my blog (IvoryOwlReviews.blogspot.com). It helps me remember to not feel guilty when I’m reading.

  20. Pingback: 7 Different Types of Readers: Which Do You Write For? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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