Writing

The Best Way to Improve Your Writing

What’s the #1 way to improve your writing?

Any guesses? Writing classes, conferences, a college degree, critique partners, practice writing every day? 

All good guesses, all of which improve your writing. I might even speculate that practice writing is #2, and getting critique partners is #3. But I’m still looking for #1. 

If you said “reading,” then advance to GO and collect $200. 

Sounds counterintuitive, right? Writing should improve writing more than reading. And many people may disagree with me on this, which is perfectly fine. This is just my opinion, but I think reading on a regular basis is crucial to improving as a writer. Here’s my supporting evidence …

1. Reading provides ideas and expands the imagination. I’m not saying you should take someone else’s ideas and pass them off as your own; reading sparks new ideas. For example, say you really like fairies, but you’ve read many fairy books already. So ask yourself, “How can I put a new twist on fairies?” Take an old concept and make it your own. 

2. If you want to be an author, reading published books will motivate you to keep writing. If your dream is to see your story in a bookstore, then read the books that are already there. Even if you don’t like the book, you’ll learn what not to do. If you love the book, you’ll know what to strive for. 

3. If you read enough books, you can learn how to write a novel without ever taking a writing class. Many published authors do not have a degree in English, Creative Writing, or a related major. Study your favorite books to learn about plotting, good characters, and even little things like grammar and mechanics. 

4. If you do nothing but write every day, you’ll reach a point when you burn out. Sometimes you need to take a writing break and refuel your creativity. Reading a published book reminds you why you work so hard to be a writer—just in case you forgot, thus growing bitter and frustrated in the process. 

True story:  Saturday afternoon, my husband took our son to visit his cousin. I had planned to catch up on housework, but I decided to read for a little while before I started working. Five hours later, I was still reading. I read all afternoon and completed zero work. What a rare, wonderful way for me to spend an afternoon. I can’t even remember the last time I had a chance to read a novel in a single sitting. Pure bliss. The book pulled me in and time disappeared.

And the best part? It made me want to start the second draft of my novel—the biggest kick in the pants I’ve received in a long time. My dream is to write a story that makes time disappear. Reading great books keep that dream fresh in my mind. 

If I had to relive my childhood, I’d spend less time watching TV and more time reading. I know that makes me sound old and boring, but it’s the truth. I’m not saying TV is evil. Many writers get ideas from TV shows or movies; after all, it’s another form of storytelling. But now that I’m old, I have a limited amount of free time, so I always choose reading over TV. I have so many fond memories of curling up with a good book, but watching TV rarely makes a lasting impact on me. 

I’ve talked about a similar topic before (“How Writers Read”), but with the influx of younger writers to the site, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to revisit the subject. I never get tired of discussing books anyway!

So now it’s time for your opinions. Do you think reading improves writing? Why or why not? How do you feel about reading? Is anyone willing to take my challenge to trade TV time for reading time?  🙂

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2 thoughts on “The Best Way to Improve Your Writing

  1. Reading is important, yes. Writers don’t write in a vacuum. I think (most) books are created partly in response to other books, either because writers (possibly unconsciously) want more of the same or see a hole in the fictional narrative (I think tv, movies, graphic novels, etc count too).

    (I also think racefail is important for writers to read.)

    • Oh, I agree! If I hadn’t loved reading when I was a kid, I never would’ve felt the urge to become a writer. I tend to seek out holes to fill; I rarely write more of the same, though some writers do that and produce great results.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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