Last week I wrote a blog post titled How To Be A Good Writer. One of the tips was to “read as much as you can” plus why that’s important. And in a previous post about habits of successful writers, I detailed how they constantly read.
But I believe that reading helps you become a better writer to such a degree that this topic deserves a blog post of its own. And today it’s getting one.
Let’s analyze why reading is so critical to improving your writing. And then we’ll take a look at how to make the most of this fact in your life.
Why Reading Improves Your Writing
Good writers read, and great writers read almost all the time. So why do these successful and busy people invest so much time in reading? Here’s why.
Each time they sit down to read, they’re developing a stronger grasp of language and how to master words. Reading increases their vocabulary, ability to construct powerful sentences, and creative thinking.
It’s not just the reading that does the magic, but taking information from the reading and then writing to adapt it as their own. That’s why a trick for fiction writers is to take their favorite story’s characters and plot and then copy it to tell their own story. Learning something and then practicing what you learn is the best way to make it stick.
And guess what? When you don’t know how to get rid of writer’s block, a good remedy is to grab a book and let it inspire you. Use the author’s words to find creative ideas and copycat how they expressed themselves. People who don’t read can often get stuck in their own way of thinking and literally run out of words to type.
By reading, you learn how quality writing is done, until your writing becomes only quality. That’s why reading and writing are designed to work together. The reading primes your mind to write.
Continue reading this post to get tangible tips to read more often so you can take advantage of these benefits.
Tips To Read More
1. Carry a book with you.
If you want to drink more water, the solution is to bring a water bottle with you everywhere you go. If you want to read more, it’s the same solution: carry a book with you everywhere you go.
When you’re on the subway, waiting in line at the BMV, in the doctor’s office lobby, or any other inactive moment, pull out your book (physical book, Kindle, iPad, or phone) and go to town. These little bursts of reading will make you feel more productive during the day because you won’t waste any time.
For example, my sister’s graduation is this weekend. And rather than listen to a thousand names I don’t recognize, I’m going to read a book until it gets closer to her name. I accomplish reading to become a better writer while still being a good brother.
2. Have an eye for the writing.
When you’re reading with an eye for the writing, it’s a different challenge than reading with no other motive. And challenges are engaging because they require attention and pursuit.
This way reading now becomes a game to see how the author chose words, structured sentences, and used punctuation to deliver his or her message. What did you appreciate and think could have been better? You get to be the critic.
Once you open your eyes to the writing in the reading, reading becomes more fun because you not only get the message but you’re also learning another author’s tricks.
3. Don’t limit yourself to books.
When advised they should read more, so many people limit themselves by thinking they have to read books for it to count. Blog posts, newspaper, magazines, journals, and other materials provide the same benefits and inspiration from reading.
With unlimited options, read what you want (as long as the author knows how to write) and your writing will improve just as much. Maybe you should start with consistently reading blog posts and then transitioning into shorts books, and then long books. Get creative to help yourself.
4. Check out the competition.
If you have a blog (read why you should blog as an author), one way to drive traffic to your site is to see what the top blogs in your niche are writing about and then do a spin on those subjects. This can help make your blog stand out and gain organic search traffic. Again, you accomplish this through reading.
So now you’re crossing off two birds with one stone because you’re reading to improve your writing and reading to gain blog post ideas. A good idea would be to schedule time every Sunday night, for example, to read other bloggers’ content and get a feel for the competition. You’ll be better for it in multiple areas.
5. Read genres outside your niche.
Another misconception is that if you’re a non-fiction writer, you have to read non-fiction otherwise it’s a waste of time. This is simply not true. Non-fiction writers should mix fiction reading with non-fiction.
There’s an argument that if you’re a non-fiction writer, maybe the best way to expand your writing creativity is to read fiction. Then when you adapt this reading to your writing, your writing will be fresh for your audience.
6. Learn from great writers.
Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Austen, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Twain and other legends mastered the art of writing. Picking up one of their masterpieces should get you excited about reading. Maybe one of these authors will become your muse and guide you to new writing achievements.
Even these famous self published authors, while they’re not legends like the group above, offer something to be learned about writing through their books. Great writers aren’t everywhere, but they can be found.
7. Read for enjoyment.
This entire blog post centers around reading to improve your writing. Now I’m going to be a complete hypocrite: I’ve found that one of the best ways to read is to find text you enjoy and get lost in it, regardless of what you’re learning about writing.
This works because your subconscious will still gain the benefits of reading while your conscious is focused on the beautiful narrative. I guarantee you will do more reading if you find writing you love.
Those who make the most progress in areas enjoy what they’re doing. The same applies to reading (and writing).
Writing Comes Before Reading
Here’s where it’s not all black and white. You need to read to become a good writer. But some authors fall into the trap of reading so much that they don’t block off any time in their schedule to write. So it can be hard to balance everything when you’re writing with a day job.
But at the end of the day, make sure you don’t prioritize the means ahead of the end. Reading, in this context, is designed to improve and inspire your writing. So it doesn’t make much sense to go days without writing because you spent all your free time reading.
It’s like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where Goldilocks says, “This porridge is too hot,” then “This porridge is too cold,” and finally she says, “This porridge is just right.” You want your reading to be just right, not too much (where it leaves you no time for writing) or too little (where you don’t read at all).
Keep writing ahead of reading in this order and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great writer.
Whether you’re an avid reader and want to do better, or you never read and this is similar to asking the impossible out of you, I encourage you to take baby steps toward progress.
If you never read, set a goal to read 15 minutes a day. Do it during breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If your home is hectic and you can’t get away from the kids, lock yourself and read on the toilet for 15 minutes—no shame about it! Or read before bed (this will also help your body and mind relax for better sleep).
If you can’t find 15 minutes to read, then you probably have more problems to account for based on your time management or your schedule.
Then, once you accomplish consistently reading for 15 minutes a day, increase it. Next month try reading 20 minutes a day. Or you can switch it up and instead of setting a time goal, set a goal to read a book in a certain period. For example, on my other site, I did a book reading challenge to read a book a week in the month of March.
To make the entire point of this post crystal clear: it’s best you start reading and don’t stop if you want to reach your potential as a writer.
How often do you read during the week? What stops you from reading as much as you want? Do you like or dislike reading?