Jul 10 2019
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Why good readers make good writers

You have managed to create time and space in your life for a writing practice, and have a bit of routine going that is working for you. It was hard enough to carve out this time for writing, something you love to do, but now you need to find time to read as well?

It shouldn’t be hard, you reason. You loved reading as a child, and still occasionally find time to pick up a good book when a friend recommends it or when a writer you like launches a new release. But you want to be a better writer, and all the advice for writers you encounter includes the directive to read more.

Here is why you need to follow that advice, how reading regularly will make you a better writer, and how to actually squeeze more reading into your busy life:

Reading makes us better, more empathetic people.

When you encounter others’ stories, you step into their shoes for a while. Books allow us to see the world as others see it, to experience things we haven’t experienced, and to feel how those experiences have made others feel. In short, we experience empathy when we read. If you want to know more about the world and your own humanity, read a book by someone with a different background or fewer privileges than you have. That empathy can not only make you a better citizen, but it might give you new and deeper perspective on the stories you want to tell. Try making a list of books about topics, cultures, or events you know nothing about, and set a reasonable goal for reading them, perhaps one per month.

Reading makes a habit out of creative consciousness.

Ever hear someone say they got lost in a good book? Engaged, close reading can put us into an altered state of consciousness akin to the creative process. We don’t really “lose ourselves” so much as we step into another world, be it the setting of the book, the psyche of the protagonist, or simply our own state of hyper-focus. Regular practice of entering this state makes it a habit, and that habit is great for your writing because it will cut down on the time it takes you to get centered to start a new project or return to an existing one. Consider setting aside a half hour at the same time every day to read—perhaps first thing in the morning or right before lights-out—and see if you can cultivate a new, creativity-beneficial habit.

Reading makes writing lessons out of entertainment.

Who best to learn from than other writers? While you’re devouring the latest bestseller, you’re also exposed to that author’s best narrative skills. Maybe the memoir you can’t put down is written in a braided or woven style, rather than the traditional linear chronology. Maybe your favorite novelist loves to use flashbacks and premonitions. The poet you heard about on an NPR show writes ghazals—they sound beautiful, but what ARE they? The next time you finish a book, jot down some notes about what the author does best. Can you then write a braided narrative, create a believable flashback, or attempt a ghazal? Once you see how much you can learn from other writers, reading will seem not only like the best way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, but also like a free writing class.

Reading makes better use of our time.

We fill our “down time” with all sorts of meaningless activities. Technology is great, but when was the last time you opened a magazine or book in a waiting room instead of scrolling through Facebook? You don’t have to wait for a big chunk of time to curl up with a good read, and you don’t have to carry thick books around with you waiting for five free minutes to open them up. Download some apps like Medium, where the articles and essays are marked with how long it takes to read them. Bookmark stories from culture and literary magazines using an app like Pocket and come back to them when you have time. Follow news and media outlets on Twitter and transform your morning timeline scroll into the first reading session of the day, instead of the 20th meme-binge of the week.

Do you love to read? Has reading made you a better writer? Have you or will you try any of the tips in this post to make more time to read? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: 5 non-writing activities to make you a better writer

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