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Divas on Writing: The Importance of Reading


In the June edition of one of my favorite magazines, Real Simple, there was a great article, “Remember Reading?” written by Sarah J. Robbins. In this article, Robbins discusses the importance of reading and outlines the numerous benefits such as a reduction in stress, an increase in empathy for others and a better academic performance for children. I found the results of a study done on the neurology of reading particularly interesting. Researchers found that when someone reads a book, neurologically he or she doesn’t just understand the story, the reader experiences the story.

This got me thinking about the question I get asked the most by would-be authors.

What can I do to become a better writer?

I often answer this question with another question.

How much do you read?

The answer I get tells me a lot about the person asking for advice. Quite often, the reaction is one of resistance. A few people have even gone to so far as to completely dismiss my question or get annoyed with me. However, those people who do not read almost always give me the same answer: I don’t have time to read. I have a ready answer to this statement that tact usually keeps me from saying: You’re not a serious writer. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but many people think that writing doesn’t require practice. Once you’ve got the basics of the English language mastered, a writer is born, because how hard can it be?

To understand why writers should read, let’s take a look at a different type of artist. How many musicians do you know of who hate to listen to music? Zero. Why? Because music is what they do. It’s what they create. Listening to music stimulates the creative muse of the musician. Whether they are listening to learn something new or simply for the joy of it, musicians benefit from listening to the music of others. A musician who doesn’t listen to music is like an athlete who doesn’t watch sports, or an artist who doesn’t look at art, or a doctor who doesn’t stay current on medical trends. A musician who doesn’t listen to music is not a serious musician. And by the same token, a writer who doesn’t read is not a serious writer.

There are a lot of things people can do to be a better writer, but the simple fact is, if they’re not reading, they won’t improve. Like most things, it takes time, practice, and determination to get better. Talent does play a role, but for most authors, a writing career is built through long hours of practice and study. There is no magic formula, no specific number of words you must write, and no particular set of books you must read. Becoming a writer takes hard work and is a life-long process.

So, what should you read? Read well-written books, books in your genre, books not in your genre. If you write fiction, read fiction. If memoirs are your thing, read other memoirs. Do you love nonfiction? Then read nonfiction. There are unspoken rules for most genres. Reading is a great way to learn those rules. When you come across a story you love, pay attention to what it is you love about it. Study the characterizations, dialogue, voice, plot, climax, suspense, prose, pacing, or any other aspect of the story you like.

Learn from the examples of other artfully crafted books and develop your writing skills. Read the reviews others have written about the books you love to get a different perspective of the work. If you have a book you love or parts of a story that speak to you, reread those elements and discover what it is that’s so special about it.

Don’t forget to read books on writing. The writing community is fabulous. A huge number of writing blogs, books, and industry professionals are available to assist aspiring writers along the way. And let’s not forget the authors willing to share their journey and help others become better writers. Don’t be afraid to use these resources to take your manuscript to the next level.

So, in lieu of my usual sign-off, let me just say…

Now… go read something!

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