“If you write, you have read and we read to be inspired. Therefore you have the drive to inspire.”
As a writer, you must read if you want to improve your skill. Reading serves more purpose than just a leisure activity. It is an important skill and habit to maintain when pursuing a career as a writer. It is easy to become too focused on personal writing and to put reading to the side with the thought of ‘I’ll do that again when I’m published.’ But sadly it doesn’t work that way. Add in the extra demand of everyday life, I can understand that it may difficult to carve out time and read a book. As an avid reader myself, I would give my left leg to be fourteen and up all night reading without the guilt of adult responsibilities. That’s true freedom right there, and I took it for granted. Now at almost twenty-eight, I manage to squeeze it in between work, house chores and spending time with my partner.
Regardless of the genre you write, it’s important to read within that genre to see other examples that will ultimately change and shape your story. Bestsellers like Stephen King, J.K Rowling and George R.R Martin have made names of themselves and are leading examples of each of their respective genres because they have followed or broken the rules of each genre and created a path for other writers in those genres to follow. There are so many rules, styles and tropes within each genre. It is important to familiarize yourself with these. Your target audience depends on it.
Reading is also important because it expands the imagination and vocabulary. It inspires others to write their own stories, or even fan fiction. I never feel more inspired to write or edit current projects than when I have finished a good book. Seeing the word choices and sentence structure in other examples of writing make me think about my own. I also tend to read with a notebook and the dictionary app open so that I can learn and document new words. There are more than a million words in the English language and it’s near impossible to use or learn all of them without completely stressing out yourself or your readers. It’s important to not bore your readers with big words but to ease your readers into it. As important it is to read outside your comfort zone, I must encourage it. It will shape what kind of writer you do or do not want to be. Books that bore you are the reason you should pay attention to your own writing. If you’re not excited about it, your audience won’t be either.
Think about grade school or high school English class and all of the books and stuff you were forced to read (or spark note). Recall all of the times you were surprised you actually liked or absolutely detested about what you read. For example, I was a big fan of The Outsiders by S.E Hinton and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I enjoyed the simplicity of the the language used and the fact that it was not too wordy but gave enough information that I could fill in the blanks myself and expand my imagination. I aimed to apply that style to my own writing. I honestly had a hard time liking a lot of what I read while completing my Bachelor’s in English. William Faulkner sticks out in my mind as the king of run-on sentences. I couldn’t focus enough to finish it. It could be that my used copy of Absalom, Absalom smelt like someone opened the book, farted in it, and left it in an old musty church for ten years before selling it to Bookmans. I felt nauseated each time I opened it. But these are the things we learn while reading.
Reading is also a big part of the research process. Since starting my job at Barnes & Noble, I’ve made it a goal to expand my writing reference collection since styles have changed since I graduated back in 2018 and it’s important to keep up with the rules. These books include memoirs from famous authors on writing, workbooks for developing strong characters, books on publishing, collections of advice from writers within the genre and of course, true crime novelizations and psychology guides. These books have ultimately shaped my writing, aside from my online research, which usually include academic journals that pertain to the subject or other writer’s blogs.
Reading is not only relaxing, but it is healthy. It provides a healthy emotional release and escape. It shapes the kind of writer one will become. Are you rule breaker or will you venture outside the rules set before you? Are you a descriptive narrator or do you like to leave some room for the reader to fill in the blanks? Through reading, you can learn more about yourself through someone else’s eyes, and explore that part in a new world.