One of the most consistent pieces of writing advice I see and hear–from blogs to conferences to writing manuals to podcasts–is read, read, read. It’s a tip I fully endorse. To be a strong writer, you should become a strong reader.
Why? Writing is like music. We take sounds and tune them into notes we call words. We string our notes to form a sentence. Then a paragraph. Then a chapter. Then a whole magnum opus, an opera of prose, a symphony of literature. But you need to know what good music sounds like, need that basic understanding of how the notes work together in the first place. That comes from reading and practice.
Reading helps writers gain an instinct for the music of good writing. The more you read, the sharper your observations become about details such as awkward syntax, lopsided story structure, weak impact, and so on. However, reading also helps you gain a sense of when a story is working on all levels, when the plot reaches deep into the human heart, when the tone and tension rises and falls, when the characters truly sing.
As writers, we should read much and often. Generally, I think you should read much more than you actually write. Read what you love most in the world. Read something that challenges you. Read a genre you’ve never tried before. Read across genres and time periods. Read classics. Read the latest things. Read novels. Read short stories. Read poetry. Read drama.
Read. Read. Read.
In our rampantly digital world, our reading options are varied from print media to literature on the screen. Across thousands of years of human history, there are probably billions of stories. So it’s never a problem of finding something to read and enjoy, but a problem figuring out what to read next.
That and finding the time to stop digesting whole new worlds and characters and plots and actually write some of my own work for a change.
Just one more chapter, please?