Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading to Improve Writing

by Vivian Zabel 

    Anyone who has attended classes about writing or who has been in sessions at conferences or who has read books or magazines about writing came across the adage at least once: "To be a good writer, read, read, read, read."

   I know what at least one reader thinks, "How can I learn anything if what I'm reading isn't worth reading?" Good question. However, reading bad writing can help a person become a better writer IF he realizes the writing isn't good. He can learn what or how not to write.

       Now, back to reading helping people become better writers.   When I took composition classes in college, I often became frustrated with all the reading I had to do, story after story after story, many times thousands of pages per assignment. Yet, as we discussed the stories and what made them interesting, or what didn’t, I was learning how to write. Even today, as I read and review on Writing.Com and for NovelSpot, I learn more about what makes a good story and what doesn’t. In fact every time I read someone else's work, I learn and share.

         I used the reading, discussion, and then writing idea when I taught, too. I tried to highlight one or two concepts per story, then had the students write something using those concepts and any others we had already covered. First, however, came reading and reading and reading.

        As I read the September, 2005, issue of The Writer, I discovered an article by Erika Dreifus titled “Learning short-story writing by example." She agrees with my university professors and me: “We learn by reading closely and reading as writers – attending to the ways others employ the elements of fiction: setting, plot, character, theme, and so on.”

        So where can a person find short stories to study, ones that will help him or her learn correct story writing? Of course books of short stories are found in all book stores. In fact, Holly Jahangiri and I have a collection of short stories for sale on the 4RV Bookstore, Amazon, and through brick 'n mortar stores, Hidden Lies and Other Stories. Plus many bookstores connected to colleges have anthologies for sale. If someone couldn’t afford to buy a new anthology or collection, used bookstores or libraries carry them. Using the library's copy is free.
      The best help found in reading to learn to write is to read well-written stories, and read, read, read. Reading well-written novels helps one to learn to write, too, for developing longer plots and sub-plots, for building consistency for longer works. As I stated above, reading even bad material gives ideas of how not to write. 

        Any writer who doesn't find time to read is hurting his writing craft and short-changing his readers.


  1. Vivian, I am a hopeless book junky and compulsive reader. You've given me another excuse to run past my family when they claim I'm wasting my time with my nose in a book {grin}.

    Peggy, going back to taking out the trash ...

  2. I like what one author/expert wrote: "Any writer who says she doesn't have time to read also doesn't have the ability to write well."

    Hmmm ... as much as I read, I must be a truly great writer. *grin*

  3. Vivian, great advice. I've been an avid reader from way, way, way back. :)

  4. Great advice, Vivian. I like to pick up award winners and classics to remind myself how other writers structure dialogue, mix description with action, put in character traits, etc. Amazing to go back to old favorites and read single scenes and lines that have stayed with you for years.

  5. Most writers are readers. Sometimes we can use some vindication for our passion for reading as well as writing. However, I'm amazed at how many "writers" I've heard or read say they don't read.

  6. Oh, my yes, I love reading all different kinds of books. They all teach a lesson. I'm a slow reader, but I keep plodding. It's imperative (as well as enjoyable.)

  7. Vivian, it's great advice. You've got to be a reader to love books and take it to the next level. really helped me grow as a writer and I recommend it as a learning site for budding authors.


  8. Thanks for your comments, Janet. Yes, Writing.Com can be helpful.

  9. Great advice! I'm a voracious reader and have been for many years. In addition to learning how to developing the depth of my writing - plots, subplots, depth of characters - reading helps expand your vocabulary and gives you the know-how to use those words so that your writing doesn't sound like a dictionary entry.

  10. I'm glad to know my tips are falling on "reading" ears. *grin*

  11. Dear Vivian,
    It goes in a circle. The more you read, the better you write. The more you write, the better you read.
    Thanks for reminding us of all we can learn from reading.
    Celebrate you.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards