Mandatory Reading

readingI’m often surprised when I hear a writer say they’re too busy to read. Really?

Is a doctor too busy to bone up on emerging diseases?

A network administrator too over-scheduled to learn the latest technology?

The teenager down the street too booked to check out a new video game?

Face it. We all wish there were 32 hours in a day to accomplish everything. Newsflash: that’s not happening. Those who are too busy writing to read just might regret it one day. It’s kind of like living on a diet of junk food. Works for now. Tastes great. But eventually your body is going to crash…and so will your writing.

There’s a bajillion reasons why reading sharpens writing, but here are the top 3:

#1. Reading hones your craft.

Seeing how others structure their sentences, weave their plot lines, or develop characters presents a model (an obviously winning one since you’re reading a published book). Read and study the big name authors who’ve mastered the craft of ordering words, then follow their example.

#2. Reading outside your chosen genre stretches your writing capabilities.

I don’t write young adult, but I read it because of its snappy dialogue. I don’t write horror, but sometimes I pick up a tastefully done creeper because of its shock-and-awe factor. I don’t write epic sagas, but sometimes I’ll page through one to fill up my beautiful prose tank. Then I can use all those elements in my historical fiction to make it a more full-bodied manuscript.

#3. Reading puts your mindset into a different world, allowing you to see your created writerly world with fresh eyes when you come back to it.

Sometimes when you’re stuck on a particular scene, it helps to walk away from it for a time and focus on something else—something like another well crafted story.

Now that you’re hopefully feeling the need to race over to your local library, what books should you invest your time into?

Big Sellers

This one is a no brainer. There’s a reason these books fly off the shelves. Pick one up and figure out why.

Classic Tales

Granted, the language in many of these can be archaic, but they’re still worth the effort. If you can dissect a classic to understand what makes the connection to a reader’s heart, then you can mimick that in your own work.

Bargain Bin Books

These are the novels nobody buys. The characters are milquetoast. The plot is flatter than the tire on my ’91 Honda. And the writing, well…let’s just say it’s marginal. So why in the world would I recommend you read one of these losers? Because even bad writing can teach you good technique simply by presenting the inverse. Besides which, it will spur on your I-can-do-better-than-that attitude.

Outside Your Box Novels

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing the concept of keeping yourself well read in your chosen genre. In fact, you should be. However, you will grow as a writer if you subject yourself to other styles and more variety.

Barring the occasional looming deadline or real life catastrophe, writers should be readers. But don’t just take my word for it…

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

~ Confucius 

So…what book are you currently reading?

26 Replies to “Mandatory Reading”

      1. I still have to read lots of his books but I really like to read all of his works. I didn’t even heard about the space trilogy. Sounds interesting. I’ll add it on my list. Thanx Michelle!

  1. NOT reading while trying to be a writer is like a woman in labor who refuses to push. The job ain’t going to get done, Trixie. I read daily. However, while I’m doing a manuscript, I tend to only read authors with similar voices as mine, as I tend to start drifting in my style otherwise.

  2. Great post, Michelle! And wonderful advice. I’m a writer because I was a reader first, and I still love other people’s books. I’m also part of a book club, which is a great way to be introduced to books I wouldn’t have known about or perhaps chosen – and then we get to compare opinions which is always fun. We just finished Shadow of the Wind, an international best seller. I find that whenever I’m in a writing rut, reading is the most effective way of getting me back to my first love. Storytelling.

  3. Hello, Michelle,

    The clever title of your post caught my attention.

    For me, the key to reading books is to make my books easily accessible and in plain view.

    Admittedly, I never read one book at a time. I keep the books that I’m currently reading stashed throughout my house. Grace for the Moment is in my kitchen, Alex & Me along with Anne of Greene Gables sit on my nightstand, The Likes of Me is in my living room, and Out of My Mind as well as The 100 Greatest Americans of the Twenty-first Century are on my desk. That way…books are in my reach and I make time to read them.

    Thank you for your post.

    Heather Villa

    1. Yes! A woman after my own heart. I’m always in the middle of at least 3 books but more often more. There’s one in my gym bag. One on my night stand. One in my computer bag. Ahhh. Books.

  4. I appreciate your way with words and the crafting of sentences in order to put a spin on my mind. Words like bajillion, writerly, and booked tweak my mind and remind me not to keep using the same old words everyone else uses in their writings. Presently, I’m reading Heroes in Black History by Dave and Neta Jackson.

  5. Excellent advice. I can’t imagine not having a book all the time. Sometimes when life gets busy, the book lasts a week or more. But I always have one. I agree that we should read within our genre and without. I write Women’s Fiction, but I read just about everything. Christian and secular, romance, fantasy, contemporary, historical, suspense… I’ve read too many bad books, though, to purposely pick one up. (It happens accidentally often enough.) And when I find a really great one, I read it a couple of times. I think reading great books makes me a better writer.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Reading great books does indeed make you a better writer. Allow me to propose, however, the flip side. An occasional jaunt into a poorly written book can actually spur you on to better writing as well, for several reasons. First off, you’ll spot errors that will remind you to look for the same in your own writing. And secondly, your pride is bound to kick in with an I-can-do-it-better attitude…which can really jumpstart your writing. I’m not advocating pride, mind you, but doggone if it isn’t inevitable.

  6. Michelle; This morning,I finished reading Lauraine Snelling’s “Ruby”, the first book of the series Dakota Treasures. A friend and I pass books back and forth between us. She finds them at yard sales and I pick some up where I can.. I have the second book in Lauraine’s series awaiting me.

  7. Great advice! Good reading ‘in’ …Good writing ‘out’! I did just join a Christian Book Club that just so happened to start meeting near where I am living at the moment. Which is unheard of. It is such a blessing! All culture activity happens on the opposite end of town from me.
    Downloadling this lastest book via Amazon Kindle app for android, is so cool to me. You don’t have to ‘remember’ to stuff the book in your purse before racing to meet your Dr. appt on time…lol.

  8. Great post! I am amazed that a writer could be anything other than an avid reader. Your point #1 was the most important to me–it really has helped hone my writing skills. Thanks, Michelle.

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