Reading to Write

663092_26111643You’ll often hear that in order to write, you need to read. Many prominent authors stick by it and advise aspiring writers to make a practice of always having a piece of literature on the go. It’s good advice, as long as you know that if you are reading to write, you need to look at the writing that you are reading differently. Here’s how I do it:

-Accept and note the areas that you have trouble with, whether they include dialogue, structure, characterization, setting, etc. Know and embrace the fact that you have room to improve.

-Pick a story or a book (or a few!) that really made an impression on you in terms of style, tone, and connection. It should be something that you don’t mind reading again, and that you would give a glowing review.

-Read the story slowly. Take your time. Figure out how that story works and how you could use those tools to better your own. If you have trouble with dialogue, compare the dialogue in the book to yours to see where you are having problems. Note how the writer avoided those problems.

-Now look for things that you would change or improve in the book you have picked. Would you have written a certain scene or character differently? Would you have added more detail, or less description? Would you have chosen a different, easier to pronounce, name?

-Remember that your tone, style, and story are unique. Your voice needs to be different than every other author out there. Your story needs to be your own. Don’t worry about why your writing isn’t at that level yet, worry about how you can get it there.

-Don’t base your solutions on only one book. Reads hundreds, thousands. Read articles, blog posts, newspapers, signs, billboards, short stories, flash fiction, etc. Read everything, and let it all influence you to be a stronger, more confident writer.

Obviously, you don’t want to steal from other authors. If you make your story too much like an existing one, it’s not really yours. What you should take from reading to write is how to fix the problems that you have with your own writing. Figure out where your shortfalls are and learn how other authors have overcome or avoided them.

Although many of us see books and writing as an art form, it is also like a complicated piece of machinery. Just like all of the parts of a machine need to work together, so do all of the elements in your writing. Maintain it, improve it, and never believe that you have reached the top because there isn’t one. You can always get better, you can always improve, and you can always learn from what others have done, are doing, and will do.

How do you read to write? Do you practice it consciously? Who is your most loved author in terms of style, structure, and/or tone?

434 thoughts on “Reading to Write

  1. Writing is a lot like public speaking. We often begin mimicking those that impress us. Only in the process of time and repetition do we find our own voice. Of course, this originality is greatly influenced.

    • I suppose, but I’m not saying to mimic, I am simply saying to learn how other authors have overcome things such as characterization, dialogue, plot, etc., and use those tools to fix your own writing.

      I think you are right in saying that our originality is greatly influenced, for sure.

  2. Great informative article. I had to chuckle at the using of “Post-its” in the book instead of the “folding of the pages”. I remember my late sister, Cindy giving me a book to read and it was full of post-its. I didn’t want to take them out-as she was so intelligent I figured I should study over her post-its and it’d make my life easier. Thanks for sharing this with all of us!!

  3. Yes I too believe, to write efficiently, you need to read more. I usually read books and learn from the author’s style of writing, what way I enjoy and can relate to, but I also read articles, blog posts, reviews. They help me with how I should do I concise writing and also help me with the words. I try to learn new words, also learn to make my dialogues expressive. I also enjoy reading short stories and fictions. I haven’t had written a book yet but yes I intend to. I also keep in mind that my storiea aren’t similar to what I read because unknowingly we are affected by what we read and our stories start revolving around the books we read (at least it happens with me)
    Yes these days I read very slowly absorbing the style, the language, the characters and visualising better.

    This was a very helpful post. Thank you so much.

    • It’s good to read everything and anything! Shorter pieces will teach you to be concise, flash will show you what’s important, blogs will give you ideas, and so on. I’m glad you liked the post, and thanks for your feedback!

  4. This article is full of great insights for those of us aspiring to be writers. I tend to read different genres but even within my favorite genres I tend to not like everything I find and I have learned to critique the writing noticing parts that are written very well making the story vivid and interesting in my imagination. Sometimes they’re not so interesting to me and I must stop to ponder why that is. Great ideas here. Very insightful and useful article.

  5. What a helpful post.I cant write very well.I think it is to do with the lack of romance towards life.But there should be a way out if i still wanted to write.And i stumbled on your post.Also,I feel its all too important to get into the reader’s mind if one wishes to write a good piece..but the strongest thoughts i have are the ones i think wont be interesting for others..How to express what you feel in a way interesting to read??I knew for sure that reading would help me write..but now i know how exactly to read to write:)))thanks a lot.

  6. Thanks, b., for the excellent post!! I do have a huge passion for readin–starting when I was a little girl. Then, I learned to write!! I took off from there hugely!! As an 8-year-old, I wrote my first “book” (I wish I still had it!).

  7. Love this article and so pleased to find your blog on Freshly Pressed (congrats!). I have over 20 books stacked on my night stand, and I find myself reading them more to study the story’s structure and artistic format than for substance. I grapple with what kind of author I seek to emulate in my writing and seem to be a mutant wannabe hybrid of Hemingway, Nora Ephron and Jane Austen with a dash of David Sedaris. Happy writing.

    • Thank you! I have a few on my nightstand too, maybe too many. I notice from your list that we have some similar reading interests, and I bet it makes for an interesting tone and style when you write. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Nice post full of practical advice. Some reading tips: Read the books that intimidate you most – something like War and Peace or A Tale of Two Cities; read them carefully with delight and courage and then proudly tick them off your bucket list of books and blog a review. You’ll be a better person and writer as a result.

    • Very true! I used to be intimidated by Shakespeare, because of the writing, but after pushing myself to get through it, I have little difficulty with it now. My writing is better, and so is my reading comprehension. Good tips!

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  12. Great thoughts, Brittany! Great reading is the necessary predecessor of great writing. My most-loved author would have to be the Pulitzer-winning Edmund Morris. A truly gargantuan biographer with a masterful flair for weaving life stories, his volumes are hallmarked by exceptional vocabulary, rich details, and impeccable research. His trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt remains my favorite modern literary work.

    Who’s your inspiration?

    • Thank you! I’ve never been one for biographies, but your well-crafted words have enticed me.

      In terms of authors, my inspiration changes all of the time. Markus Zusak’s writing in The Book Thief is especially beautiful, Tolkien always, Philip Pullman, James Herriot, Rowling, Poe, and a million others make up some of the writing that inspires me.

      • I have not yet read Zusak, though now I must add him to my already burgeoning “To Read” list. Tolkien and Herriot were childhood favorites. The Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie, is my personal favorite for fiction.

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  14. At one time, I thought it wasn’t a good idea to read while writing. Then I hit a block and picked up a book that I loved. When I returned to my writing, I found it was better. I actually had to go back and rewrite the entire manuscript.

    I read as I write now, but in different genres. I focus on all that you’ve noted. I love this post. Thank you.

    • I find it to be very helpful, especially when I am trying to figure out problems in my own writing. It’s both inspiring and educational.

      So glad that you enjoyed the post!

  15. Sir, I have a website named . There I publish stories, articles from new users and for people who are having blogs, we publish half of th article or poem and then give links to them to the original blog. It will be a great help for me if you allow me to publish half of your articles and give the readers a link to your blog.
    You can mail me at

    • I’m actually a m’am, but thanks for your interest all the same. I’ll take a look at the site and get back to you. Did you just want to publish “Reading to Write”, or more? If you need to contact me further, you can visit the Contact page on my blog or my website. Thanks!

  16. I can think of two authors where I had heard similar advice:

    Stephen King who wrote, “You have to read a lot and you have to write a lot. There’s no shortcut around that.”

    And Ray Bradbury who wrote to a student who wanted to know how to be a writer and Bradbury’s answer was two words: “Read Everything”.

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