Why All Great Writers Read, and You Need to, Too
The importance of the relationship between reading and writing can never be overstated.
In my first year of a Creative Writing degree at the University of Derby, we had a module called ‘Writers Reading’. In it, we were encouraged to read work by ‘contemporary authors’ so that we could learn from our peers in the same way that a scientist would learn by watching other scientists.
Whilst the definition of ‘contemporary’ was always vague—usually classed as the age of the oldest person in the room, something no one ever wanted to admit to—the message was there: you couldn’t write if you didn’t read.
Why all great writers read
Reading helps us to improve our language and grammar because we pick up on the nuances of language even when we don’t realise we’re doing it.
We learn to cook through watching our parents, grandparents and friends. We learn to write by meeting new characters and their creators.
What we read is often reflected in what we write
Young Adult authors, for example, read a lot of YA too—that way they know what their peers are doing, what’s popular, and can pick up on patterns. Said patterns can then be used to their advantage, or avoided, depending on what they find.
The more you read of a particular genre, the harder it will be for that genre to surprise you.The more you read of a particular genre, the harder it will be for that genre to surprise you. Click To Tweet
Take Silvia M. Lopez, for example. She grew up reading crime fiction, and because of that she’s always looking for a plot twists and trying to work out what happens next. Also because of this, it’s fairly difficult to surprise her in any form of writing. This creates a greater challenge for her when she writes, because she knows what tricks and tools have been overdone and need to be avoided. She pushes herself harder so that she creates something new for herself, and ultimately, the reader.
I, on the other hand, have only recently gotten into reading crime fiction. It started with a discussion about the Rizzoli and Isles TV show. The TV show made me want to read the books, and the books made me want to read more crime fiction. A novel that I recently started writing has turned into a crime fiction novel because I’ve enjoyed Rizzoli and Isles, Castle and Gillian Flynn novels so much.
Being exposed to a new genre also allowed me to discover something that I thoroughly enjoy. I always dismissed crime shows and books as being boring and drab with uninteresting characters and repetitive plots, but thanks to the likes of Rizzoli, Isles, Castle and Beckett, it’s not the plots that I get attached to: it’s the unique characters and their stories. I’ve embraced a genre I usually wouldn’t have given a chance, and I’ve begun writing in a genre I never would’ve expected a few years ago.
Some may argue that being influenced by other writers is a bad thing, but I disagree.
We’re influenced by the five people we’re closest to whether we like it or not. We can’t control this. But wee can control what books influence us by choosing what we read.
We’re influenced by the five people we’re closest to whether we like it or not. We can control what books influence us by choosing what we read.
There’s always more to learn
One of my worst habits used to be not finishing what I read.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve fixed this. Endings are one of my weakest parts in writing. Not finishing reading books doesn’t help that.
Even if I don’t enjoy a book, I’ll aim to finish it. There’s as much that can be learnt from the books we don’t enjoy as the ones we do. The books we don’t enjoy teach us what features to avoid in our writing, and challenge us to think about what we would do differently.
Reading is the second most important part of writing (writing being the first, of course).
If you have to write about a topic you’re unfamiliar with—and it’s something we’ll all have to do at some point—reading is imperative.
Whether you read online or from a book, that knowledge will give an extra layer to your finished product. Even if said research doesn’t end up in your book, readers can tell when you’ve done your research.
Reading is how we research information; it teaches us how to weave a story (or stories) together; how not to do things, and it forces our imaginations into uncomfortable places, challenging our minds and our morals.Reading forces our imagination into uncomfortable places, challenging our minds and morals. Click To Tweet
The more we are challenged as readers, the more we, as writers, challenge our readers.The more we are challenged as readers, the more we, as writers, challenge our readers. Click To Tweet
It’s that challenge and unpredictability that will keep readers coming back to read your work whether it’s your second book or sixtieth.
Over to You
Why do you feel that reading is important to writers?
Do you feel that reading is important? If you don’t, why?
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!