It seems so obvious that you may well be wondering why I’d bother writing a blog post about it. Really, though, it’s one of the best things you can do to improve your writing. Reading a lot not only broadens your overall experience, but can give you a number of handy hints for your writing career.
This is something I noticed when I started taking my writing seriously. I’ve been a reader all my life, and have rarely been without a book or two on the go. My mother even used to put old magazines in my cot when I was a baby to occupy me when I woke up, giving her fifteen or twenty precious minutes before I called out to her. Reading is a huge part of who I am.
Anyway, once I started thinking about writing, I started to notice things about the books I was reading. Storytelling techniques (both good and bad), use of dialogue, examples of show rather than tell – all of those basic stock things that you have at the back of your mind when you write, were there when I read.
I’m a lot more critical now, I admit that. I have read books by previously adored authors and pulled them apart as I read, thinking of ways the plot could have unfolded more smoothly. I have looked at published books and been astonished at their predictability and the corners they cut in exposition. I have, in short, been critiquing them in my head.
Of course, the opposite has been true as well. There are books I’ve read where I’ve been in awe of the work that went into them. Accurate and detailed research cannot be faked, and as someone who has done that sort of research for a particular niche I appreciate the effort involved. I have been amazed by plot twists and been left hanging after every cliffhanger, dying to know what happens next. As such, I have begun to appreciate the quality of what I’m reading, especially when it’s by an established and successful author, and I’ve learned a bundle from it.
So, read. Read because you enjoy it – because if you don’t enjoy reading, then what are you doing writing in the first place? Read as a reader … but also read as a writer. Think about not only the content of the narrative, but also how it’s been put together. Think about how the sentences and paragraphs flow, and how you might be able to apply the techniques used to your own writing. Think about what you can learn from them. I know I do.