Don’t you just hate being told what to do? I hate it. Absolutely hate it. However, I am going to tell you if you want to be a writer, you need to read.
I know. I know. Who has time to read, right? We are busy with life, writing all day, getting caught up on our favorite television shows, cleaning seven litter boxes every morning, and washing our socks. Who has time to read?
But if you are a writer, you need to be a reader too.
Three Reasons Why Writers Need To Be Readers
If you hate being told what to do, maybe you need some convincing before you’ll put down your pen and pick up a book. Stephen King, the king of writing, has this to say about why reading is so important:
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. . . . Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. —Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
But maybe you would like more specific reasons why reading is so essential. There are so many it is hard to pick just a few. But today I will share three reasons I have found to be most significant in my own writing.
Perhaps by the end, you will be inspired to pick up a book and spend the rest of your day lost in a story.
1. Reading Helps You Learn to Use Language Well
As a writer you want to make sure your reader understands what you want to say. When you read, you will learn to recognize well-written stories, and stories where writers struggle to communicate what they see in their mind.
This is important at the most basic level of language usage. Stephen Koch says this in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop:
Reading alone trains you for correct usage, getting the words right. This is no minor matter: The lack of correctness is the lack of communication.
If your language is clear and precise, the reader will see what you see and hear what you hear.
Reading will also help you learn to write compelling stories. The more you read, the more you will understand what works and what does not. As you read great writing and not-so-great writing, you will learn to put together strong sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters to craft stories your own readers will love.
2. Reading Familiarizes You With Your Genre
Each genre comes with certain conventions, and your readers will expect to find them in your story. If you do not read books in the genre you write, you will not know how to craft a compelling story that your readers will enjoy.
If you want to write horror books, read horror books. If you want to write thrillers, read thrillers. If you want to write cat cozies, read cat cozies.
Did you know that you have to have a “Hero at the Mercy of a Villain” scene if you are writing a thriller book? I didn’t. Now I am adding a scene in my story Weed Woman Saves The Town where the villain captures Weed Woman.
Harper, my cat, is going to write cat cozy mystery novels. Now she knows she needs to read cat cosy mystery novels to understand the genre. Yes, even though she is a cat, it would be prudent to read cat cozy mystery novels.
When she reads them, Harper will find friends with similar interests, cats who are detectives. She will understand what story elements she should include in her novels. She wants people to like her stories.
It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. —Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Of course, just because conventions exist does not mean you must always include them all in your stories. They are not hard-and-fast laws.
However, you must know the rules before you can break them. Otherwise, you will not know whether breaking them is a good idea. Read, read, and read some more so that you can learn the conventions of your genre and figure out how you want to use them in your stories.
3. Reading Helps You Learn to Write Good Description
Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. —Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I just finished reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. In the first two paragraphs, we are introduced to Will Graham and Jack Crawford.
There is no detailed description of what they are wearing, or where they are. We don’t know if they are wearing shoes or what brand their pants are. I appreciate this character introduction because it reminds me that details should move a story forward and be there for a reason.
Last week I wrote a story for The Write Practice’s writing contest. The story is a horror/thriller about two women who are neighbors, and one of the women is killing the neighbor’s cats.
I wrote the first draft, then I took a break and read Red Dragon in one sitting. After I read the book, I rewrote the section where Sally is in the basement. I added sound and smell because I read a section in Red Dragon where Harris describes what Graham can hear and smell. The sensory details helped me feel like I could see what he saw and feel what he felt.
Sally sat on a stool in front of the workbench. She heard the hum of the furnace and the ticking of the clock. The room smelled of rat poison and dried blood. She stared at the hides tacked to the wall. They were covered in cobwebs.
Read and write, read and write, read and write, clean the litter boxes, read and write, read and write, feed the six cats, read and write, read and write, walk the dog, read and write, read and write, wash your socks, read and write.
Do you think it is important for writers to be readers? Please tell me in the comments section. I would love to know what you think.
What are the conventions of your genre? Take fifteen minutes to write down all the conventions you can think of based on all the books you’ve read in your genre. For example, all the cat cozy mystery novels Harper has read take place in small towns and villages. Now Harper knows she will want to set her story in a small town. When you’ve written as many conventions as you can think of, share them in the comments.
Also, please tell us what you are reading. If you are reading anything that is. I just finished reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.
I hope you are now feeling inspired to find books in your genre to read. If you are not sure what books in your genre would be good to read, please tell us in the comments what genre you are writing in, and maybe other readers can suggest books for you to read.
Harper, my cat, would like cat cozy mystery suggestions.