Recently, I’ve been thinking about the advice writers are most often given. Things like ‘show don’t tell’ or ‘don’t use adverbs’. Advice which in and of itself is a great starting point. But there’s so much more to this advice than just these hackneyed phrases they get boiled down to. So today I thought I might unpack one such statement. And, having just been on an epic voyage to the library, I thought I might talk about why writers are always being told to read a lot. You know, apart from the fact that books are awesome things and every single person in the world should be devouring them.
I’m always a little surprised and quite sad when I hear writers say that they don’t really read. Firstly because they’re missing out on so many good stories and adventures. But also because they’re missing out on one of the biggest tools writers have to help grown their writing skills. Next to taking writing courses or reading books on the craft, reading other fiction books aside from the one you’re currently writing is one of the best ways to learn how to write better. So here are some great reasons all writers should keep reading as well as writing.
Firstly, because these books have all, for one reason or other, been considered good enough for publication. They’ve been written and rewritten, edited by professionals and scrutinized by a multitude of knowledgeable people. They’re a few steps ahead of where your book is right now, and they’re a great place to learn what a finished book looks like. And, if they’re not that great, you can always learn what to avoid doing.
Secondly, because being surrounded by many books is the best way to learn what works, what doesn’t, what you like, and what you really don’t. You’re able to gain a more discerning taste for plot devices, characters, writing styles, and voices. The more you read the more you understand about what works from a reader’s perspective, and can start translating this into your own writing.
Thirdly, because we writers do have to be aware of what other books are out there, what’s popular, what’s been overwritten, and what’s gone out of fashion. It’s not quite so important if you just write for fun, but if you have any intentions of publishing in the future you should have at least some knowledge of what’s already out there.
Fourthly, because reading is the best way to discover things. Genres, character types, narrative structures, awesome writers and books, pretty much anything bookish. Because when it comes down to it, whatever the reason you’re reading, you have to admit, books are pretty amazing things really.
Why do you think writers should read a lot? Do you think it’s possible to be a good writer without reading much? And tell me, what are you reading at the moment?