When I wrote my first short novella in 2006, I wasn’t much of a reader. I would occasionally pick up a book that I enjoyed enough to complete, and then I might not have read for another six months to a year. But the urge to write stories was something that stuck with me from childhood.
I hated reading as a child; it was boring, long-winded, and I made up enough stories in my head to keep me entertained.
These days, I’m a few short edits away from being content enough with Waffles to place it in the hands of eager readers. I’m also getting through up to two full books a week at the moment.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that reading a lot isn’t only making me a more inspired writer, it’s making me a better writer.
Something writers are often told in advice columns such as this one, is that you absolutely must write, write, write if you want to get better. The problem is that practice doesn’t actually make perfect; all practice does is force you to repeat the same problems over and over again.
If you want to become better at anything, at some point you must engage in what’s known as active learning. This is where you stop doing the thing and start learning about the thing. Then, you practice what you have learned for a while before you move on to learn something new.
When you’re a writer, reading fiction is a huge part of the learning aspect (the other being learning how to construct sentences and use your knowledge of grammar to its fullest potential). For this (and I know saying this as a self-published author could be career suicide), you absolutely must read bestselling and professionally edited novels. By all means, enjoy the free Kindle books Amazon provide, read the novels of your friends and indie authors you enjoy.
But just as no painter ever improved without watching a Master at work, no author can improve without doing the same.
Read books in genres you love, genres you hate or genres you’ve never heard of.
If you refuse to read books outside of your genre, your work will remain forever uninspired and your author “voice” will be boring and too over-familiar to your readers.
Are you a science fiction writer? Great. Put down the Phillip K. Dick and pick something up by Donna Tartt. Are you a light-hearted romance writer? Get yourself some Stephen King, pronto.
Even if you stubbornly choose to only read generally within your genre or theme of book, pick something that is the polar opposite to your usual inspiration.
Let’s say that you were hugely inspired by Twilight to write a young adult romance about vampires. Rather than dissuade you from flogging that dead donkey, I’d urge you to read The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, instead of re-reading the Twilight saga for the fifteenth time.
If you’re a horror writer who believes that Stephen King is the all-time God of the macabre, try reading some classics by Poe, Shelley or Stoker. For more modern horror, Peter Straub or Jonathan Mabery are good choices, too.
Whatever your choice of direction, the broader your reading horizons are, the better writer you are going to become in the long run. Who knows, perhaps one day you will be the master that new writers look up to for their guidance and inspiration.