Reading is one of the most important skills you can learn as a writer. And yet, when I ask writers to think about their own reading habits, many are ashamed of the fact that they read anything at all.
We often don’t even know what we’re reading, and if we do, we’re not reading for the right reasons. We read because we have to or because we’re forced to, but we don’t read because we want to.
I’ve found that the biggest barrier to reading is fear. And I’m not talking about fear of the book itself, but fear of the idea of reading.
I’ve been a professional writer for nearly 25 years now. In that time, I’ve come to see reading as the most valuable skill I can offer writers. Reading can help you improve your writing in so many ways. It’s also a great tool for improving your other skills such as speaking, public speaking, and listening.
STEP 1: Find Books That You Love
If you want to read well, you need to love books.
This might seem obvious, but it’s not something we often think about when we set out to buy books. Instead, we just go with the first thing that seems interesting. This is why you often get into arguments over whether a book is actually good.
The solution is simple: you need to find books you love. If you don’t know what books you love, just start reading and don’t worry about what you think of the book. The only way to read well is to read. And if you read, you’ll eventually develop a taste for what you like.
This is the same for writing. Write what you love. And then write more. And then write some more. The more you write, the better you’ll get.
STEP 2: Read a Lot
Once you’ve found books you love, you need to read them a lot.
I’m not saying that you need to spend a ridiculous amount of time on each book. But you should spend at least a few hours every week reading.
If you can’t find time to read, at least pick up a book and start reading it. Even if it’s a terrible book, it’s better than nothing.
Reading a lot helps you build a mental library that you can draw from when you want to write. It helps you improve your reading skills by exposing you to new words, sentences, and ideas. It helps you develop your own style, which in turn makes your writing better.
STEP 3: Practice Reading With a Purpose
Once you’ve built a solid library of books, you need to start practicing reading with a purpose.
This means reading books that will help you improve as a writer. Reading fiction is especially good for this. It teaches you about language, plot, character, and emotion, all of which are critical for great writing.
I recommend starting with short stories. They’re easier to read and easier to get into than novels. You can read them in one sitting and still come away with something.
And don’t limit yourself to short stories. Read any genre of fiction, even if it’s not your usual preference. It doesn’t matter what the story is about; the important thing is that it’s fiction.
STEP 4: Watch Out for Bad Writing
Finally, once you’ve built up a solid library of good books and practiced reading with a purpose, it’s time to start reading bad books.
This is where you get to practice your ability to recognize bad writing. If you don’t have a lot of experience reading, it might be hard to tell the difference between good and bad writing. But the more you read, the easier it’ll be to spot it.
Start with short stories. They’re easier to read and easier to write, so you can get a feel for the style of writing without having to invest a lot of time.
Read enough that you notice bad writing. Read enough that you can see when a writer is struggling with ideas, characters, or language. And then start reading novels. Start with a genre you know well, like romance, or science fiction, or mystery. Then branch out to other genres as you become more experienced.
Once you’ve practiced recognizing bad writing, you’ll be able to tell the difference in books you don’t want to read and books you do want to read.
STEP 5: Write More
You’ll never become a great writer if you don’t read. But you’ll also never become a great writer if you only read great writers.
That’s why it’s important to write, too. It forces you to read books that aren’t great. It’s a way to practice your ability to spot bad writing.
If you find yourself thinking that you don’t have time to write, you probably should. If you’re not writing, you’re not practicing reading with a purpose. And if you’re not practicing reading with a purpose, you’re not reading good books.
I hope this post has given you a few new ideas about how to improve your reading skills. Let me know if you have any questions!