How [Great] Writers Read Differently Than You

A writer’s greatest tool is his or her ability to read. That’s the first way we learn what we like and what we don’t, what genres interest us, as well as what’s popular on the market today. Reading is so much more than a pastime. (Although it is by far my favorite – even more than comic book movies and anime and maybe even Disney movies!) It is also our most significant form of professional development.

So let’s talk about how [great] writers read.

If you don‘t have time to read, you don‘t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

[Great] writers read for insight.

In order to understand the craft of writing, one must read the works of great authors. Just as musicians have to immerse themselves in sounds, so too must writers, authors, and poets immerse themselves in words, in well-written language. How will you know what’s popular or attractive to sell if you aren’t reading the bestsellers and comparing or contrasting to your own work? By what standard do you judge yourself and the strength of your narrative voice if have no scale to use as a rank? Reading helps you establish where you feel like your works fall in the lineup. Reading to understand what makes good writing, what makes popular writing, and what sets apart your writing is so integral.

A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself. – Jane Austen

[Great] writers read to think.

Writers are a highly self-motivated group. Or at least should be. Their primary objective is always improvement. Development is key. Reading, however, is the key factor to development as a writer. Whether one writes fiction or nonfiction, poetry, plays, or greeting cards, he or she is daily seeking to grow in the craft. They not only read books that they enjoy, but they also read books on writing, blogs on writing (good for you that you’re already doing this!), and book reviews.

The better you want to be as a writer, the better reader you become. [Great] writers also read personal development books and articles. They study ‘growth mindset’ and learn about the marketplace for publishing in both traditional and digital formats. As students of the craft, they are also knowledgeable of the businesses of print and digital media as well as where they fit into or want to fit into today’s market. Even the writer who only writes for the love (meaning for free!) must still understand what the best ways to share their stories and their voices are. There is no better way than to read what’s available for them and find out.

Libraries raised me. – Ray Bradbury

[Great] writers read to branch out.

Understanding the marketplace means going outside of your comfort zone. There will be plenty of books and series that become popular that make you scratch your head or want to ram it through a wall. However, as a [great] writer, you must understand the whys! Why do people like it? Why do you hate it? Being able to make the connection helps you become stronger and more versatile in your own writing. Plus, you could accidentally discover a fondness for a new genre. And who doesn’t love opening themselves up to a slew of new, exciting books they never knew about?

Also, when you branch out to read new things, it exposes you as a writer to new writing styles and plot development techniques. Every writer has something that is unique to their voice. We can all learn from each other. Maybe you’re a fantasy writer with a pacing problem, but when you read the mystery novella your sister recommended, you notice a cool technique that could help you get your manuscript together. Or what if you’re a script writer, and you can’t get the dialogue or stage directions just ‘write,’ and one day you pick up a piece of nonfiction that establishes a beautiful connection to the reader that parallels with the story you want to sell?

Branching out as a writer opens up your mind to new and exciting possibilities you may have never considered. It helps you get away from the traditional tropes of your genre and gives you fresh ideas for invigorating your writing style. I personally always seek new types of books and movies and magazines to enjoy (or not!), both print and digital, from well-known and virtually unknown creators. No matter how bad the writing may be (or how exceptionally great), I can always find something that I’m able to use to be better at crafting my current story or next poem.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive. – James Baldwin

[Great] writers read to connect and be inspired.

The art of writing is the art of connection. If you’ve never experienced it, how on Earth can you ever convey it to your audience? Writers of merit seek connection with other writers through their work just as they (and every other human being) seek it from other persons in any aspect of life. There is a need to touch and be touched that we all share. Reading feeds that desire and, if done well, creates an ever worsening hunger.

Feed your inner beast. Read.

In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

[Great] writers read for the hell of it. To them, reading is fun.

I’ve never met an amazing writer who wasn’t an avid reader first. And not for any of the (albeit important) reasons listed above. Every writer I know genuinely enjoys the option of a good book over almost any other pastime. Reading is an opportunity to enter into someone else’s world, and oftentimes you leave with a better understanding of the one around you. When done well, reading will create a response on the inside that you hope to bring about in others. Developing a love for reading is ABSOLUTELY imperative to developing the ability to write well, in such a way as to gain and maintain the love and trust of your reader. Besides, reading is its own reward. Virginia Woolf said it best:

I have sometimes dreamt … that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’

 

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