Writer Wednesday: Reading is the Key to Writing Well


A lovely place to read: Santa Barbara’s Mission Rose Garden


For most of us, being gripped by a story was the spark that led to stories of our own. We were in awe of the way words could move us into a new world. We could hang out with characters we admired and live in places we’d never visit. We carried books in our hands, in our purses, and at the bottom of our back packs so that a story was never far away.

We longed to do what these authors did and vowed that someday we would.

Reading was important to us then. It inspired us. There’s no reason to let that end, now that we are writers ourselves. Put away the writing tools and spend a part of each day reading, always for pleasure but also for learning.

Read to develop your style

A good style simply doesn’t form unless you absorb a half a dozen top-flight authors every year (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Reading a book gives you lessons on the craft of writing. You learn how language is used to tell a story or report information. You pick up writing skills as you see how successful authors work their craft. You begin to favor one style or genre over another. Most importantly, you begin to write in a style that becomes your own, one that has developed from reading millions of words through the works of a variety of authors.

Read for inspiration

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library in order to make one book (Samuel Johnson).

That’s a wonderful visual. Imagine that behind you is a pile of all the books you’ve read. In front of you is your writing desk. Besides your unique life experiences, you have literary memories stored in your writer’s tool box and available for use. You experienced memorable characters and fictional locations. Scenes and stories made you laugh and cry. You read a plot development with twists and turns; the beautiful description of a single flower or a time of day; an unusual name; an action that haunts you. You’ve been touched and inspired by what you’ve read and will use that to write memorable passages of your own.

Read regularly and with variety

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body (Richard Steele).

The technology that is available to us today leaves no lack of reading material. We have access to libraries located around the world via websites, online newspapers and magazines, and instant downloads of newly published books for our Kindles. Brick-and-mortar libraries and bookstores are still in business and offer the hard-copy feel that many of us still enjoy.

Whichever route you choose, your reading choices should include a range of styles and genres, fiction and nonfiction, articles and essays. Each will broaden your world and help your own writing to be better as you include what you’ve learned. Here’s what my reading habit looks like:

  • Read the news daily. I use my internet browser’s bookmark and reading list apps to clip and file articles with topics that relate to a story I’m writing. I also save obituaries that include fascinating and inspiring life stories. I keep up with what’s happening in the world and these events affect us. Some of this information makes its way into my stories.
  • Read outside my genre. I decided to try a legal thriller and it was a trick to find an author for my tastes. I finally chose John Grisham because I wanted to see how a fellow Sunday School teacher and mega-popular author writes in this genre.
  • Read a popular author. I ask friends for recommendations when it comes to popular fiction. At this time of year, though, there are many “Best of” lists, so I’m going to take a look at what Goodreads.com chose for 2014. Click here if you’d like to see the list, too. My first choice is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, winner of the historical fiction category.
  • Read a variety of blogs and magazines. I read outside of the writing community. For example, I read food blogs that contain beautiful photos, stories, and descriptions. I read articles that include political and religious views that are different from my own, and I read blogs written by cat lovers. All of them give me ideas to introduce in my writing.
  • Read classics. I subscribe to “Story of the Week,” which sends a classic American work to me every Monday. I also have classics on my bookshelves.
  • Read books for children. I work at an elementary school, so children’s books are always within reach. Reading them gives me examples of how a child might think and talk, and I can use this in any type of work.
  • Read the Bible. This is personal for me as it is my manual for life. I read it daily. It’s also an amazing collection of literary styles.

How much time do you set aside for your reading habit?

(Updated. This article first appeared on DarlaWrites.com, February 2012)

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

2 Comments Write a comment

  1. An excellent variety of suggestions, Darla. I have just one to add. I found a stack of letters written among grandparents, their siblings and cousins, and several to and from the country pastor. The vernacular was educational, and after awhile I’d read a letter and then practice writing a response.


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