Reading: A Writer’s Greatest Tool

It’s hard to find time to read during a busy week. Reading on your lunch break seems like a great idea, until you put your book in your bag and realise the lunch and the book can’t possibly fit in there with everything else. However, if you want to get the most out of your writing, reading is essential. Making time to read is something I’m working on at the moment, and regular visits to Waterstones are breathing life back into my bookmarks.

Reading, as the title suggests, is a writer’s greatest tool. Books that are impossible to put down, like All the Light We Cannot See (pictured) by Anthony Doerr, are both informative and inspiring. A masterpiece born from the imagination of someone else is a great reminder that your characters also have a chance to be heard and loved. You may doubt your work, but someone could find it gripping and be left wanting to know more about your characters. The front cover, the chapter names, and the point of view in a story can influence your own work. I often keep my journal close when reading, to make note of clever tips and tricks from the author’s writing.

When you read a wide variety of genres and authors you see what does work, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be avoided. Sometimes, thanks to my studies of English literature and critical thinking, I’ll read a work and critique it at the same time. This, although annoying because it takes the fun away from a story line, helps you to recognise your own writing style and what you don’t enjoy as a reader. If you don’t enjoy reading stories in first person, don’t write in first person. Although I don’t mind first person accounts, I always write in third person. As a reader, I find this point of view easier to follow.

One of my recent favourite reads is Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport, about the final months of the Romanov family. It focuses on the friendships and interests of Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia and Maria, through their childhood and into adolescence, until their final day. Rappaport gives a brilliant account of the lives of the Romanovs, and if you read my last post Myth and the Romanovs you know how compelling I find their story. While reading Four Sisters I gathered notes on how to successfully begin a chapter with dialogue, and how to integrate your characters’ inner thoughts into the paragraph. I strongly recommend this book as both a fantastic read and as an example of how to write great narrative non-fiction.

Reading different genres and a variety of written forms is insightful and can help you to branch out of your comfort zone. Two years ago I never allowed myself to write poems because I didn’t believe they’d ever be ‘good enough’. Whatever that means. I wrote a poem that I was proud of, and turned it into a short story at university which my classmates enjoyed. Don’t be scared to try new things with your writing, and see where it takes you.

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