New writers looking for advice from published authors are often told to read, read, read. Reading, they say, helps make you a better writer. A great tip, except that some writers are left wondering what exactly they should be reading and how they should be reading it.
When I read, I do it as a reader first. I start by choosing books that I want to read. Often, they’re books that have been recommended to me or books that I’ve read about. I don’t just settle on one genre or type of publication, either. Naturally, if I’m working on a children’s book manuscript, I’ll read several books that have been published for that age group. But reading any material helps me as a writer.
A page-turning thriller helps me see how pace and action are used to move the plot forward. Historical fiction novels show how to incorporate authentic details and believable dialogue into an engaging story. Magazine pieces, blog posts, and journal articles provide examples of tight writing as well as satisfying introductions and conclusions. Even that fluffy romance novel has something useful to offer me about character development and creating emotional tension.
When I read, however, I don’t analyze the writing or take notes or pick apart sentences and paragraphs. That would ruin the reading experience for me. Still, I absorb a lot of information. In fact, reading helps me with all kinds of writing issues, including technique, voice, style, spelling, word choice, grammar, chapter length, titles, topics, and names. I take in all these things and more—without actually trying. And I imagine I’m not alone; we writers notice a lot more than we think we do when we read.
So new writers, follow that advice, and read, read, read. Anything and everything. But read as a reader first. You’ll not only enjoy the experience better, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn as a writer.
Image by Onderwijsgek