When I’ve asked for advice on how to become a better writer, and searched for tips to teach my own students, the one thing that comes up all the time is that writers need to read, and read often!
To some extent what we read isn’t really as important as how much. We should simply be reading all of the time. Many people who enjoy writing and are constantly trying to improve their craft are also avid readers. The two things go hand in hand. Exposing ourselves to language through books (or essays, short stories, articles, etc.) is a great way to develop our own vocabulary and determine which writing styles we like best, which ones match our own, or which ones we may want to try to emulate. Reading can also help spark new ideas for settings, characters, plots, or research. For those of you who suffer and get “stuck” from writer’s block, reading is a great way to get “unstuck.”
I say that what we read isn’t always the most important thing because we should read a variety of things, for a variety of reasons. Two main reasons that we read are to learn and to be entertained. An article or book that teaches us something important may or may not be entertaining to us, just as something that we find entertaining may not teach us very much. We have to read a variety of things so that we are continuously extracting new knowledge, ideas, vocabulary, and techniques from what we read so we can apply them to our own writing.
Now, what we read does matter if we are trying to develop a certain area of writing. If, for example, you are trying to write a mystery novel, then grab and read every mystery novel you can find! Read them and decide what works and what doesn’t work. How do the successful authors develop the setting and the plot? What makes the book suspenseful, and so on. If you want to write poetry, read poetry. If you want to write non-fiction, read non-fiction. If you are trying to develop your characterization, then read stories from authors who have developed great characters.
Read something every single day and reflect on it. Ask yourself if you can somehow use something that you read in what you want to write.