Aside from writing itself, reading is the single most important element in a healthy writing life. As Natalie Goldberg and Stephen King, respectively, point out:
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.”
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
Specifically, we should be reading the type of stories we want to write. Why?
Because they make you jealous. Yep, you read that right. If you’re not reading stories that make you drool with envy over the author’s ability to craft fascinating characters and string together beautiful word pearls, you’re not setting the motivational bar high enough for yourself. Read enough authors who make you think, Oh, I could never write like this, and you may one day surprise yourself by writing like them.
Because they show you how it’s done. You’ll find no better place to learn than at the feet of the masters. When you read a story you wish you’d written, take note of the techniques that worked and the elements you particularly loved. Then put those components to work in your own writing.
Because they convince you of the worth of writing. Sometimes it can be easy to doubt the worth of writing, particularly after we’ve just logged a long writing session in which nothing went right. When you find yourself asking “What’s the point?”, dig out a good book. After closing that back cover, you’ll more than likely have remembered why crafting stories is worth the struggle.
Because they remind you how your dream started in the first place. As Susan Sontag points out, “Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.” Don’t let that dream die through neglect.
Because they teach you how to avoid clichés. By familiarizing yourself with the salient and common points of your genre, you can learn which elements have been overdone. It’s a mistake to believe that reading widely in your genre will sap your originality by causing you to subconsciously copy other authors. The truth is just the opposite. Read widely, so you know what’s original and what isn’t.
Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for reading. A writer who doesn’t read is like a racecar that avoids pit stops. You can’t keep racing forever without stopping to refuel. Just as you set aside a daily time to write, make sure you’re also setting aside time to read. Studying stories of the type you want to write is legitimately important research, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Tell me your opinion: What’s the last book you read that inspired you as a writer?