Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Want to be a better writer? Read more!

by Laurie Boris

Happy news! According to the National Endowment for the Arts, daily reading, once on the decline, is rising again. Here are some good reasons you, as a writer, owe it to your career and to the next generation to keep making daily reading a habit.

1. Reading keeps you abreast of the current market. Some writers disagree about this, but reading current books in my genres gives me a broad idea of what’s out there and helps me position my novels in the marketplace.

2. Reading teaches you good writing techniques. Just like playing tennis with a better player helps you improve your game, reading great books urges you to raise the bar on your own writing. My favorite example is Zombie, a novella by Joyce Carol Oates. Somehow she made me empathize with a serial killer. I went from being awed by that on the first reading to drilling down to exactly how she did it, and the specific techniques she assigned to the protagonist in character development. Remember, it’s okay to borrow a technique (as long as you use it in your own voice) but NOT to plagiarize!

3. Reading increases your vocabulary. I love books that send me to the dictionary. I once told this to novelist/short story writer T.C. Boyle, when I met him at one of his events. He smiled at me, and then signed my copy of his book in Latin.

4. Reading helps you explore other genres. Some days I get a bee in my bonnet to try historical fiction. Reading them gives me an idea of how it’s done and the challenges I will face.

5. Reading makes the world smaller. Books take us through the looking glass, to faraway lands, and across the universe. In doing so, we learn about other countries, religions, and cultures. We understand each other better. And how can that be anything but good for you as a writer and as a citizen of the world?

6. Reading keeps your imagination sharp. For over ten years, I judged a literary contest for a local school district. I noticed an interesting trend. For a while, the level of imagination exhibited in the children’s stories declined. Then Harry Potter came along, and as if someone waved a magic wand, the stories flourished with creativity. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

7. Reading makes you more attractive. And why not? Reading makes you smarter, and according to some studies, intelligence is an attractive quality when choosing a mate.

8. Reading supports fellow authors. In this tough business of publishing, don’t we want to support each other?

Why do you read? If you had three minutes with a person who doesn’t care for reading, what would you say to try to change his or her mind?


Laurie Boris is the author of The Joke's on Me, from 4RV Publishing. She also blogs about writing, books, and the language of popular culture at


  1. Laurie this is so true - all 8 points. What I like is getting exposed to another writing style. You can always learn.


  2. Dear Laurie,
    Great points about the benefits of reading! The more you read, the better you write!

    Do something fun to celebrate you today!
    Joan Y. Edwards

  3. Loved the post. I'm a compulsive reader, and I get withdrawal symptoms when I think I'll run out of reading material. It's nice to think I can use the excuse that it's going to make me a better writer.

    As to the vocabulary -- how true. When I was twelve or so, I discovered O'Henry. I remember reading the stories with a dictionary by my side. I had to look up a word about every other sentence in the beginning, and I had a pretty good vocabulary for my age at the time.

  4. Great article, Laurie. Another point, even ready "bad" writing helps us be better writers. We learn what we need to avoid.


  5. Although I tend to edit in my head as I read. Professional hazard, I guess! ;)

  6. Some authors who used to be my "favorites" are no longer because I can't read without editing, too.

  7. Great article. I've always heard it's important not only to read TO your children, but to have them see you reading on your own.