How Reading Makes Me a Better Writer

Literary mastermind and the person I’d give my left kidney to have a beer with, Stephen King once said,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

As with most things, I’m inclined to agree with the master of horror.

I probably spend more time reading than I do writing, because reading is the thing I can do just about anywhere. In the dentist’s waiting room, in bed when I can’t sleep, on the couch when my boyfriend is cooking (the scene in my apartment just minutes ago…).

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that I am reading more ‘like a writer.’ Reading has always been a pleasurable activity, stimulating and stress-reducing. But it’s also been productive in shaping me as a writer. I read a variety of genres and authors, but recently have come across an author whose books slightly resemble what I envision my “style” to be. Racy, without being trashy; dramatic, without being ridiculous; tense, without being overly so; romantic, without being cliche.

So as I’m reading book 3 in a 4-part series, I’m forcing myself to notice why I like her books so much. I’m noticing how she strategically ends a chapter right when I want to know more, or how she changes character POV or switches timelines.

I’m paying attention to how she describes her characters, what makes them so relatable and non-irritating. What sorts of plot-twists does she employ that stick to the overall plot and theme, but still throw a wrench in and keep the reader hooked and engaged?

Since reading these novels, I’ve been able to come up with some plot twists and character development ideas for my own work – simply because of what I notice while reading.

Reading like a writer takes time and practice, and it is something I’ve only just started to do – and I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I can remember, back in the first grade when I wrote my own rendition of a Cinderella tale.

Reading like a writer doesn’t take the fun out of writing. In fact, it adds a certain intrigue and excitement, I think. I look forward to reading more by this author and exploring others to hopefully enrich my own work, and I think this is a valuable skill and tool that all writers, experienced or not, should be using. (Besides, do I really have to convince a bunch of writers to read? I think not…)

  • Find other books/authors/stories that share similarities to your own work.
  • Pay attention to what you like about them. Was it the changing of POV? Cliff-hanging chapters? Frequent plot twists? Complex characters? Lots of dialogue? Split timelines?
  • Start thinking about how you could incorporate those elements into your own work, with your own personal style, voice, themes, etc.
  • When you’re finished reading a story or book, don’t forget it. Critique it, make notes if you have to, really force yourself to analyze it – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • Always be thinking about how you can add dimension to your plot and characters – and how you think other authors have been able to do this well.
  • Always ask why. Why did that character do the thing? Why do they feel this way? Why do want it to end this way?

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