Reading to write - a guide without steps

Posted by Communique at 3:26 PM on Jul 29, 2019

Everyone wants to write better, it’s a common desire. There are many methods and routines you can take to better improve your writing skills, but what are the most sensible? When you ask a writer, ‘how can I write better?” the first answer is usually “read a lot.”

There is truth to it though, as humans are learning animals and like all things creative, writing is something you learn to do. You can’t conjure music out of thin air without first having heard music. A lot of creativity comes from inspiration: finding interesting or entrancing pieces somebody has made, and addressing them in a manner that suits you better. Logically, the more you expose yourself to the creativity of others, the larger a repertoire you will have for potential. This applies to writing, where you will find a noticeable difference between someone who has read 3 books and someone who has read 300 books.

The trouble is, reading just isn’t a favoured pastime anymore. It’s associated with work, study and general diligence rather than something enjoyable. On Ryan Holiday’s blog, he says: “Reading must become as natural as eating and breathing to you. It’s not something you do because you feel like it, but because it’s a reflex, a default.” Like many writing and marketing strategists, he firmly believes that reading is something you must commit to — something to force yourself to do, that books are a necessity rather than a luxury, and as he puts it: “The purpose of reading is not just raw knowledge. It’s that it is part of the human experience. It helps you find meaning, understand yourself, and makes your life better.” This belief is true to many avid readers, and has no doubt helped them achieve many goals for their future. Again though, it goes back to creativity. It’s not enough to read a book or read it three times over — if you find no pleasure or interest in what you’re consuming, the effort as a whole is meaningless.

It’s difficult, because you can’t force yourself to enjoy something. Reading usually starts with finding the right book: it doesn't have to be a strategy guide, biography or inspirational reader — it can be anything, the important thing is that it enthralls you and gives you the desire to carry on with other books. Reading 100 books you have enjoyed is far more useful to developing your skills as a writer than forcing yourself through 10,000 books. It’s not about carrying a book with you at all times, or setting a schedule for when you must read, it’s about creating or facilitating an environment where you want to read, rather than having a need to read.

Reading this as a guide may seem vague, as there are no ‘top 5 tips’ or ‘must do’ attitudes. When it comes to improving your writing skills, you have to invest more than just your time, you have to be interested. If reading becomes a pleasure, then so does writing, and everything goes up from there.