Want to improve your writing? We’ve reached out to other writers and editors, and we’re putting them to work for you — in our series, Writing Tips.
By Liberty McArtor
Whether you’re a full-time author or a blogger on the side, you know that a writer’s time is in short supply. That’s why the advice that writers should not only read, but read regularly, can sound like a pipe dream.
Believe it or not, regular reading is doable, and so very worth it for your writing. Here are three reasons writers should read on a regular basis, and some ideas for how you can make it work in your busy schedule.
Everyone has blind spots, and they’re a danger to our writing.
1. Reading helps you understand your topic.
What topics do you write about? Read books, essays, and articles about those things. Being well read gives you a mental store of information to draw on and cite within your own writing.
Filling your mind with other experts’ words won’t weaken your own. At this point in history, few (if any) of us will say anything truly original. Hopefully our take will be fresh, reflecting our unique experiences and perspective. Still, our own prose will be made stronger when supported by the minds of those who’ve researched and written before us. And when you’re well read on your topic, supporting information will come to mind more readily as you write or speak, infusing your words with authority.
2. Reading helps you understand your audience.
How can you get to know your audience? Start by reading what they’re reading. This can help show you what ideas (or plotlines, or arguments) they’ve seen too many times, and what facet of your topic they haven’t been exposed to. You’ll also get a grasp for what matters most to your audience. Reading what they read will help you understand the correct readability level to aim for as well.
3. Reading helps you understand the world.
There are an infinite amount of things to read, but our time is not infinite. We have to be intentional about our reading, but that doesn’t mean we must always read within our wheelhouse. It’s beneficial to occasionally read things outside our topic or genre, or by authors we wouldn’t normally read.
Reading outside our “zone” boosts our empathy, and gives context for how our topic fits in with the greater picture. Importantly, it can broaden our worldview and reveal our blind spots. Everyone has blind spots, and they’re a danger to our writing. They keep us from saying something our readers need to hear, or cause us to say something ignorant that could needlessly offend and obscure our main point.
Writers should read well and often for myriad reasons. Reading sparks our creativity, expands our vocabulary, sharpens our hard skills, and gives us perspective. We could go on forever about the benefits of reading — but when in the world are writers supposed to do it?
If we don’t have a plan, the books stacking up on our desks and nightstands will just collect more dust.
When will I read?
Don’t worry — you don’t have to be like those annoyingly impressive entrepreneurs who claim to read three books a week. Some people may be speed-readers or have hours of free time each day. Most of us aren’t and don’t. That doesn’t mean we can’t read on a regular basis.
When I worked fulltime at an office, it was hard to read at home because my eyes hurt from staring at a computer screen all day, so I listened to audiobooks on my long commute. Not everyone enjoys audiobooks — and they can never replace a hard book in your hands! For people like myself, however, they are helpful tools that allow me to “read” more than I otherwise would. (Check out free apps like Libby by Overdrive, which allows you to borrow audio books from participating library systems.)
Right now I’m a stay-at-home mom, where I balance part-time work with raising a toddler. Free time is hard to come by. On top of that, I’m a slow reader. Nevertheless, I set a goal in 2020 to read a book a month. I’ve hit that goal most months by simply reading in pockets of free time rather than scrolling through social media or watching TV. Fifteen minutes after breakfast while my toddler is happy to play alone, on the weekends when he naps and I don’t have work assignments, half an hour before bed — you get the idea.
Everyone’s capacity, pace, and preference will be different. The key is discerning a plan that works for you in the season you’re in, and sticking to as best you can.
And you should make a plan. Between looming deadlines and responsibilities pulling us away from the keyboard, our time as writers is crunched. If we don’t have a plan, the books stacking up on our desks and nightstands will just collect more dust. We need to crack those books open frequently — for ourselves, for our writing, and for those whom God has called us to serve with our words.