This article was originally posted here.
Reading as a writer is an essential part of improving your work. Seeing how those before you have crafted their writing and applying the lessons you learn to your own endeavours allows you to stand on the shoulders of giants rather than shiver in their shadows.
But many people find it difficult to make time, between writing and other commitments, to read as much as they should. If that sounds like you then it may benefit you to think about reading less as a thing you do for fun and more as another facet of writing practice.
So, on that note, here are three ways that you can use your reading time to improve your writing.
Absorb The Structure
Even Picasso needed to learn to use a paintbrush, and so every writer must learn how to wield the tools of their trade: the word, the sentence and the scene.
This is the nitty gritty of writing, the craft of the thing. It’s pointless having a story for the ages if you can’t tell it properly. In fact, most writers facing writer’s block are probably having problems with the craft rather than their creativity — they just can’t find the words!
Try this: go to google, type in “fan fiction”, scroll through until you find something truly awful and really read it, paying attention to why it sucks so much. I can save you some time, it’s almost certainly the word choices, sentence structure and scene composition. You see, something that is well written can have a bad story and flat characters and it’ll just be boring. If the craft isn’t there, the down and dirty mechanics of writing, then it’s just going to be offensive.
The great thing is you can absorb the structure of well-written prose simply by reading it. Of course, you have to read a lot of it (but then again if you don’t love reading then it beats me why you would want to write!). You’ll pick up the general structure of the craft very easily without really thinking about it, although it is always worth having a book or two on the intricacies of the craft so you can improve more quickly.
Learn The Tropes
What is your genre? Most writers stick to a small number of genres for the majority of their careers, so it is important to understand exactly what your genre is.
Obviously you can name your genre, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean by knowing your genre is knowing the tropes and iconography your genre uses, in essence the building blocks of what makes a story fit into that genre.
For instance, the horror genre can count amongst its tropes the haunted house, characters being cut off from civilisation and supernatural beings seeking revenge on the living. There are, of course, thousands upon thousands more.
Knowing the tropes of your genre is very important when writing genre fiction, even if you decide not to use them or to subvert them. Seeing them used will help you to understand not only what the tropes are, but also what purpose they serve and why they are so often employed so as to become tropes. This can only help you improve your genre writing.
Find Your Voice
No matter how good your plot and how interesting your characters, it is your voice that carries your writing.
Every great writer has their own unique voice. You know without looking at the cover exactly who wrote the book. That’s a huge part of the appeal of those big name writers. In order for you to really master this craft you must find your unique voice to give your readers a reason to keep coming back for more.
One writer with an unmistakable voice was Douglas Adams. Any of you that have read anything by him would be able to identify immediately a line from one of his novels, not by memory but by voice. That’s what you should strive for, because it makes you irreplaceable.
Reading books by a variety of authors, both well known and otherwise, will expose you to the different ways writers achieve their voice. Your voice will come naturally and develop with you, but if the refinement is through writing then the mining is through reading.
And those right there are just three (of many) ways that reading can improve your writing. What lessons have you taken from reading other authors that you have applied to your writing? Leave a comment below.
And — as though I need say it — keep writing.
Enjoy this post? Want more? Join our mailing list to receive a weekly roundup of posts we think you’ll enjoy, as well as news and special offers! It’s free, takes less than a minute and you can unsubscribe at any time with the click of a button.