You want to write but you’re lacking in inspiration. To have more motivation you need to seek new experiences. To seek new inspiration you (not always, but often) need disposable income and time to spend on seeking out new experiences and broadening your horizons. But you’re trying to make it as a writer and fulfil your other obligations – including bills, bills, bills. So you sit down to write and you’re drawing a blank.
The human mind and our own unique life experience is a bounty for finding things to write about. However, often you want to find inspiration externally – and your familiar surroundings aren’t filling you with the new ideas you desire.
Did you know that reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer? The more you read, the more equipped you’ll be to tackle any writing challenge. Reading widely gives you access to new ideas and ways of thinking. It helps you understand other people’s perspectives, which in turn will help you think critically about your own thoughts and ideas.
Readers are thinkers, or as Nietzsche famously quipped: “Thinkers read so they can think again.” You’ll discover that reading and thinking go hand-in-hand, and both activities improve with practice. As a writer, reading is an essential part of your job description—after all, how can you expect to write well if you aren’t an avid reader first? But for many writers, reading falls by the wayside when there are so many other things to focus on. After all, reading seems like such a passive activity compared to writing.
Reading can be very active if you make it so. Gather your post-it notes and let’s explore how we can read to become better writers.
Read to learn and grow
“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson
Reading is the best way to meet new ideas and expand your worldview. You can’t become a better writer if you only read what you already know. Reading is a way to meet new characters, places, and ideas, and learn from them. It’s a way to travel without leaving your chair. When you read, you’re not just passively taking in information. You’re actively engaging with the writer’s ideas. You’re asking yourself questions about the text and trying to understand why the writer chose to convey their ideas the way they did.
This process of thinking critically about what you’re reading is what will help you become a better writer. When you’re reading, make an effort to connect with the author and the text. Ask yourself thought-provoking questions like: “What is this writer trying to say?”, “How are they saying it?”, and “What do I think about what they’ve written?”
Reading critically will help you understand how other writers go about their craft and what makes their writing unique.
Read to converse with other writers
“A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Reading can give you the feeling that you are “conversing” with the author. You can use this feeling to practice engaging with other writers. While reading, you can imagine that you’re in a room with other writers, and you’re discussing the piece. You can challenge the author’s ideas, discuss other opinions, and add your own two cents.
You can use reading as a way to practice engaging with other writers. When you’re reading, ask yourself, “What would this author’s response be to what I just read?” You can also imagine that you’re on a panel with the writer, and you’re being asked a question about the piece.
Read to discover your own voice and style
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
— Stephen King
As you read, you’ll notice certain techniques that other writers use over and over again. Some writers are very straightforward, and others are more lyrical and figurative. Some writers are funny, some are super serious, and others are a mix of both. You’ll notice that different writers have different strengths, and they tackle their topics in different ways. This is because we’re all unique individuals with our own set of strengths and weaknesses. You’ll have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and reading is one of the best ways to discover them.
Readers are also thinkers, and they spend time connecting the pieces of the world around them. The way you “connect the pieces” is through your writing style or the unique way that you put words together. The more you read, the more you’ll be able to recognize your own strengths, and how to play to them.
Read your favourite writers
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”
— Annie Proulx
In addition to reading broadly, make sure you read some of your favourite writers, too. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading Shakespeare or Stephen King; the more you read from your favourite authors, the more you’ll understand their writing. You’ll notice how they use certain words, how they construct sentences, and how they put their paragraphs together. You’ll also notice their patterns, like the types of characters they write, or the types of plots they use.
You might even want to take notes as you read, or use one of the many available reading apps. Taking notes while you’re reading will help you pick up on things you might otherwise miss.
Reading is one of the most important ways to become a better writer, and it is something you should make a priority. When you read, you are engaging with other writers in a conversation, which will increase your knowledge of the craft and improve your writing.