If You Don’t Read, You’re Not a Writer

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.”

– Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones


As a writer, I now take that saying as law.

If you don’t take the time to read, to explore the written word, then you are not a writer. It may sound harsh but reading is a necessity to good writing. It’s something that I’ve come to realise whilst writing my novel.

Growing up, I was an avid reader. Ever since I read the first Harry Potter, like many of us, I felt weird without having a book stuffed within my schoolbag, or tucked under my arm. I would spend hours of my day with my head buried within pages of writing.

However, it wasn’t until I started the journey of writing my own novel that I discovered that my once habitual reading patterns had fallen to the wayside. Yes, I still read quite often, especially in comparison to some of my friends, but I had grown lazy. I was too comfortable with the genres that I knew I’d love. I was scared to delve into anything outside of my comfort zone. I either had to absolutely love the book and author or simply leave it.

And my writing skills have suffered for this ignorance.

You not only have to read but read widely. You cannot pick up on new writing techniques, interesting dialogue, and broader writing concepts if you don’t allow yourself to read a wide range of authors and genres. It’s important to familiarise yourself with the genre that your novel falls under, of course, but to limit your topics to just one genre will hinder your writing style immensely.

For example, to get a sound grasp of how to develop a romantic connection between two characters, regardless of whether your novel falls under the thriller or fantasy genre, you need to acquaint yourself with writing from the romance genre. And you can only do this, you can only grow a strong tacit writing knowledge, by reading titles by genres and authors you don’t often read or who don’t appeal to you. Chances are, you’ll learn something new.

Reading is also important to help you understand what you like and don’t like as a reader which can then be transferred to your own writing. Most writers want to attract the readers that appreciate their natural writing style. To do this, you must have an indication of what works for you, and what doesn’t. You can only do this by reading other peoples work, and coming to your own conclusions.

But I don’t have time to read?

Reading doesn’t mean you have to finish a novel or a piece of writing, though it often goes against our better logic. If you’re reading a book, and the writing style is not to your liking, then you don’t have to endure it. If you’ve already come to the conclusion of disliking it, then you would have already gathered a firm understanding of what exactly you don’t like about it. Take note, put it down, and move onto the next book.

It’s also crucial to not only read fiction but include non-fiction in your library. Not only is it good to retain explicit facts, general knowledge and research for your own writing, I find that alternating between fiction and non-fiction tomes resets my creative mind so that by the time I’ve picked up another fiction novel, I can really concentrate on the stylistic choices of the author. Some writers, though I don’t follow this in practice myself, even suggest to only read non-fiction whilst you are writing for long periods of time as to avoid the author’s voice being subconsciously integrated into your own…

Today’s lesson? Reading is the most crucial tool for developing your writing skills. If you don’t read, you are not willing yourself to grow and mature as a writer. And in turn, if you don’t develop strong writing skills and a clear voice, the reader won’t read you!

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