Writers are readers

Last time I talked about the importance of reading widely. Now, my list of books read for last year looks pretty puny compared to some. But it’s a diverse list, so I’m OK with that.

I once sat in a meeting with a potential client who was looking for a ghostwriter. He admitted to me, “I really don’t read much.”

Which explains why he was unable to write his book by himself.

books reading
Some of the books I read last year, cataloged on Goodreads

To be a writer, you must be a reader. You must read books in your own genre, and you should also read books in other genres.

Sometimes I hear writers say they don’t want to read other writers because they’re afraid they’ll subliminally pick up the other writer’s style. That is a hazard. Then again, you can use that effect for your benefit.

Mary Robinette Kowal, who writes fantasy novels set in Regency England, said in an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast that she reads Jane Austen before she starts writing so she can absorb the flavor and tone of that time and place.

We don’t want to consciously imitate our literary heroes, although copying other writers’ styles can be a good exercise for a novice to see how expert writers use diction and syntax. But that’s a step on the way toward developing our own voices. But just as children cannot learn to speak unless they are spoken to, writers cannot write unless they read the writing of others.

So read. Read bad writing to see why it’s bad. Read great writing to see what sets it apart. Re-read your old favorites and read things that are new to you.


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