Why avid readers make better writers – Kate Langdon
By Kate Langdon
Reading a lot, and making the time to read, will improve what you write. It just makes sense. Like any job, the more you open your eyes to what’s on the market, the better informed you will be, and the better equipped you will be to improve your own writing. The same goes for authors.♥
There are constant changes and advancements in writing styles and storytelling techniques, and reading a lot is the surest way to keep abreast of these advancements. Yes, it may mean you are eating into your valuable writing time, but surely research is a critical part of the process? As an author, or a budding one, when you’re reading a book you are prone to subconsciously analysing the writing style, whether you realise it or not; the tone, the scene description, the characters, the dialogue. And you either like what you read and think it works, or you don’t.
It’s a good idea to read books within the genre you are writing, so you can keep tabs on what other established authors and newcomers are up to. In other words, what type of books publishers are going for at the moment. Although personally I don’t limit myself to reading only chick-lit books, I read all sorts of fiction genres. Mostly because I enjoy reading a variety, but also because there are plenty of tips I can learn from writers in other genres; such as the economy of word that many crime and suspense writers excel at.
The downside to reading a lot of material within your genre is that you may come across that great book idea you just had – but already in print and with somebody else’s name on the cover. And, worse than that, it might be really really good. As crushing as this is, it’s probably better than writing the manuscript and pitching it to agents, only to find out it’s been there done that. You may also find that you get disheartened – there are a lot of great authors and books out there, and many of them will be writing in your genre, which will likely make you want to cry into your glass of chardonnay.
Alternatively you can turn it into a learning exercise – get out your notepad and write down what it was that made that book you just read so damn good, what the elements were that separated it from the humdrum, and what you need to do to bring your manuscript up to that level. Although books, like any form of art, are subjective, there are some books that are just better than others – they have a better premise, better characters, better dialogue, better evolvement, and better storytelling. If you read a lot you get better at recognising what makes a certain book good and being able to break this ‘success’ down into definitive and digestible elements.
The best way to find or make the time to read is to treat it as part of your job as a writer, rather than a luxury. That should make you feel way less guilty about lying on the sofa with a book at eleven am. If you were a doctor I’m sure you wouldn’t feel guilty about reading lots of medical research papers, would you? So there’s no need for you to feel bad. Reading is constructive research … and the best research you can do as a writer.
Kate is the best-selling author of That Slippery Slope, Famous and Making Lemonade and recently released Next of Kin. She stumbled across writing books over several glasses of wine one night and enjoyed it so much she decided to keep going. Prior to that she has been a journalism student, a tennis coach, a writer for television commercials, a burger bar owner, and an event manager. Kate lives in Auckland with her partner and young son.