Why You Have to Read to Be a Good Writer

Cheney Meaghan Giordano

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Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift. — Kate DiCamillo

It makes me so happy that I’ve been a voracious reader of books since I was a little kid.

I remember trips to the tiny town library with my grandmother when I was very young, picking out my first chapter books, desperately wanting to read Nancy Drew but being told I wasn’t old enough yet, so it was The Boxcar Children for me instead and I loved every word of every one of those books.

In school I was always the one most excited for library time. I didn’t have anyone giving me limits and could check out whatever I wanted, so I read all the Nancy Drew books we had in the school, and I asked for more and my mom bought them for me.

She would always buy me books, and when I was older she told me she was always happy to.

Your sister always asked for clothes, I was happier to be buying you tons of books,” she confided in me.

In high school, I was reading scandalous V.C. Andrews series and gobbling up the entirety of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, so my introduction to sex in literature was a very strange one.

Then, I found Stephen King, and I started reading everything he’s ever written and haven’t stopped.

I’ve had a lifetime of reading good books, and I know that my writing wouldn’t be anything like it is today if I hadn’t read as many books, and as many different kinds of books, as I have.

I’m stunned when I meet writers who say they don’t read much, or at all.

How are they learning the craft of writing if they aren’t reading?

I read a book or two a week, and that’s if I’m really busy.

I read a whole 350 page thriller yesterday afternoon because it was just so good I couldn’t put it down, and it’s what inspired me to write this post.

Because writers need to be reading, and here’s why:

Reading teaches you how to write. Period.

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. — Ursula K. Le Guin

Reading is a more intimate and intense experience than watching a TV show or movie.

When you dive into a book, you’re diving into a world that the author created, but some things are always left up to your own imagination when you are reading, and that helps you create new worlds in your head.

Seeing how other writers create their worlds, whether they are spinning magic or mystery, and seeing how their plots unfold, will teach you not the only right way that it’s done, but one way that works, and the more you read, the more you will learn.

Reading is how you will learn to write effective dialogue, and when you will see that less is often more in a story’s dialogue if you study it closely.

It’s how you will learn what effective pacing looks like, and how to bring yourself to a successful and satisfying denouement.

Reading will teach you what not to do as much as it teaches you what to do.

As a writer, you can’t skip out on reading.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. — Joseph Addison

There’s no way you’re going to be a successful writer if you aren’t a regular reader.

If you try, your readers will be able to tell.

For one thing, you’ll be doing a whole lot of telling and not showing your readers what is happening, and for another, what will you even write if you don’t know what you like to read most?

Imagine someone trying to write a fast-paced mystery/thriller without ever having read something in that genre before? It would be a total mess, I am guessing.

And if you don’t like reading, why are you even writing books, anyway?

I can’t listen to writers who say they don’t read. I have a hard time even believing them.

I cover my ears and close my eyes and say “LA LA LA LA LA” because the insanity of it makes my mind want to explode.

Reading teaches you the craft of writing.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. — Dr. Seuss

The truth is, I couldn’t tell you what the definition is of a present or past participle. I know they are grammar terms, but if I was quizzed on them now, decades after my last English class, I would fail.

I couldn’t tell you why a comma needs to be where a comma needs to go, but I know when it needs to be there.

When you are a good, close reader, you get familiar with the mechanics of writing and it is easy to spot when something is wrong.

(Am I not the only one who loves finding typos in mass market books?)

If not for anything else, read to be a better person.

Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. — Malorie Blackman

Reading doesn’t just open up your mind and teach you how to be a better writer, it opens up your heart, too.

Putting yourself into a story and asking yourself ‘what would I do if that were me?’ are constant lessons on what it is to be a human being in this world, and they are lessons I don’t think we should skip or ignore.

So the next time you get ready to settle in for a good long Netflix binge, consider picking up a book and spending a few hours inside of it for a while.

You never know when it might happen, but sometimes a book will change your life.

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I write about parenting, family, relationships, education, disability, mental health, food, beer, and a whole lot about writing.

Salem, CT
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