The Writer's Cookbook

Writing, productivity, publishing.

Category: Reading (Page 1 of 2)

Reading actively makes you a better writer faster. Here's how.

5 Tips to Help You Read More Actively

If writing is the weightlifting, then reading is the protein that builds the muscle.

The best writers are the most avid readers.

Reading for pleasure allows us to subconsciously pick up on the ingredients for a successful story.

When we read actively, though, we pick up on those ingredients faster and can therefore improve our writing faster too.

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How to Read Like a Writer

By far, the best writers I’ve ever met are the ones with English Literature degrees. This is no coincidence: these people read books like some of us drink coffee, or big cars guzzle fuel. They read fast, they read often, and they read actively.

Reading actively is the key to being a better writer.

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7 Life-Changing Books Every Writer Needs to Read

What I love the most about being a writer is that the journey is never over. There is always more to learn, and always things we can do to improve.

The number one thing we can do to improve is read. Reading not only teaches us what other writers in our genre are doing, but it also subconsciously improves our language and empathy skills. Reading puts us into the characters’ minds, allowing us to be as close to walking in another person’s footsteps as we can get without being telepathic.

There are lots of books for writers out there. Up until I started my MA, I’d read very few of them. When I started my MA, I made an effort to read more of them.

Since then, I’ve branched out into reading nonfiction in general. I’d never judged fiction by its genre in the past, so why did I just nonfiction so harshly?

I’d always assumed nonfiction meant boring.

It really, really, doesn’t.

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What Life is Like at a Small Publishing House

When I was 42, I was made redundant from my job as a middle manager at an IT company. I’d been ill for a few months, and wasn’t in a fit state to go back to work. As my redundancy money gave me a small financial cushion, I decided to go back to studying. I signed up for the University of Nottingham’s excellent (and now sadly defunct, but that’s a story for another time) Creative and Professional Writing degree. It wasn’t long before I realised that there was no anthology of student writing. The tutors said if I wanted to organise one, I’d be welcome to. I seized the opportunity.

I already had typesetting, project management, and team leadership skills from previous jobs. That, I thought, would surely be enough. All that’s involved in making a book, I thought, was gathering together the material, typesetting it, and sending it off to the printer.

As it turned out, there was a whole raft of additional skills I needed to acquire—editing, performing, planning, book layout and cover design, managing and working with volunteers, knowledge of the publishing process, fundraising, networking, and coaching.

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The Books I Read in 2015

I know it’s a bit late for one of these posts, but better late than never, right?

I read more books in 2015 than I think I have in any year my entire life. The majority of the books I read were part of series, but not always. The books that gripped me the most this year were part of a series, though, and one of them I can’t rate highly enough, but more on that in a minute.

Reading is a huge part of my life, and since committing to my novel I made a decision to read more, too. That and workshopping are the only ways my work will improve. This isn’t a complete list of everything I read this year — I have a reading journal but in the move it got lost for a few months — but it’s the ones that affected me the most.

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Interview With Ana Salote

Ana Salote is an author of children’s fiction whose debut novel, Oy Yew, is out now. It’s published by Mother’s Milk book. The first chapter of Oy Yew is available to read online. Ana regularly blogs on her website about creativity and writing.

Tell us a little bit about Oy Yew. What’s it about?

It’s set in Affland, a pseudo-Victorian world, where Master Jeopardine, the deranged bone-collecting waif-master, exploits children from neighbouring Poria.

The shy hero, Oy, lives in hiding behind a bakery. He doesn’t know who he is or where he comes from until one day he is caught and taken to work for the Master. Oy quickly finds himself at the heart of a mystery. It’s a search for identity, a tale of separated soulmates and a battle for survival.

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Interview With Cathy Bryant

Cathy Bryant worked as a life model, civil servant and childminder before becoming a professional writer. She has won fourteen literary awards, and her work has appeared in over 200 publications. Cathy has had two poetry collections published: Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature (Puppywolf, 2010) and Look at All the Women (Mother’s Milk, 2014). She co-edited Best of Manchester Poets vols. 1-3, and Cathy’s latest book is the novelPride and Regicide, (Crooked Cat, 2015). See more at see Cathy’s monthly listings for financially-challenged writers at She lives in Cheshire, UK.

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Books That Changed My Life

Like so many writers, as a child, I loved books, especially old ‘important-looking’ books by ‘important-sounding’ people like Shakespeare and Dickens and someone called ‘Encyclopedia.’ I loved the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. I just couldn’t read them. They were mysterious, alien hieroglyphics to me, because—unlike my clever elder siblings—I couldn’t read until relatively late, and was seen as the ‘backward’ one (my father’s term, not mine). I was a slow learner (still am, in many ways) and couldn’t read or write till I was seven or eight. This made reading and writing seem all the more strange, desirable, fascinating, like a secret code.

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Why Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight Are So Popular

Let’s face it: these days, nobody really cares about the prose. It’s a hard fact, but they don’t. They want something easy and light to read before bed, not Shakespearean-like dialogue that will leave their head spinning (especially if it’s a small font).

Say what you want about things like Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, and A Song of Ice and Fire, but they all have something in common: they writers have created very vivid, very real worlds. (Please note that I did not say ‘original’ or ‘likeable’.)

You not only feel for the characters, but you feel the love that they were written with. They can feel as real to you as the last person you spoke to. Their creators know everything about them from their favourite colour to how they pick their cuticles when they’re nervous. If the writer is good—and not just in it for the kitsch or the novelty—the character will even have their own unique way of speaking. You can instantly read something and think, ‘That sounds just like something [insert name here] would say!’ much like you would with your best friend.

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How to Read More Books

Just five years ago, I barely read a book a year. This is terrible when you’re a student, but even worse when you’re a Creative Writing student.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I decided to read a book a month for the next year. And I did. The following year, I did the same. Then I began to up my target. And up it. And this year, my current target is 44 books, although I may well increase that to 52!

Not bad for someone who didn’t read a few years ago, is it?

Why reading is so important

The importance of reading, both for writers and non-writers, can never be understated.

Studies have shown that reading literary fiction improves empathy. Not only does this make you a nicer person, but it also makes you a better writer. If you can empathise with a person, you can empathise with your characters, and if you can empathise with your characters, the reader will be able to, too.

However, it’s not easy to find time to read in the twenty-first century. With attention spans decreasing every year—the average is now just eight seconds—it’s difficult to focus on a book for long periods of time.

But, if you put your mind to it, you can read more.

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