Hello ladies and gentlemen, this is The Uncensored Writer, my name is Vian De Bod and today we’re going to be discussing the number one resource that all writers will need in order to improve their work. What is that resource? It’s READING!
Writers must read.
A Writer must read. George RR Martin said in the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series that “A mind needs a book like a sword needs a whetstone”. To be a writer and not read regularly is to be a musician who never listens to music. You have a well of inspiration in your mind and reading a book keeps that well filled with water. If you do not read, your well will dry up and your inspiration will flounder. I know this because I was in exactly that situation a year ago. I used to read a lot in highschool, but once I left my reading stopped. I filled my time with video games and fooling around online. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, but when it takes all your time from you, you’re bound to be unproductive. I felt like my well of inspiration had dried up and my writing suffered for it. So much so, that I almost gave up on writing altogether. It was only when I got back into reading that my well started filling up and I was able to write again.
Why should you read?
Now I can already hear you furiously typing “But Vian, video games, anime, tv shows and films all have stories that can fill that well!” Well yes and no. You see all of these things can inspire you in many ways, but only to a certain extent. It is unlikely that you will encounter great metaphors or themes or anything similar that couldn’t be done better in a book. Reading not only exposes you to the styles of many other writers, but it also shows you how to better handle character growth and plot twists and themes and descriptions and everything else that comes with literature.
Without reading, you’ll never know how to make sentences flow or make metaphors that brings something to life in the eyes of the reader. You will never learn how to develop character or do decent dialogue or to describe clothing or personal mannerisms. Your world and characters will feel dead and horribly clichéd at best.
If you read a lot you will also begin to pick up on small nuances in novels you never noticed before. You will start to analyse other novels in the way that helps you understand why you like (or dislike) them as well as why other people like (or dislike) them.
Reading is what puts ink in your pen. It’s what puts fire in your heart and it’s what puts beauty in your prose. Remember that a writer who never reads is a hypocrite. If you do not read, it will show through your work and your readers will judge you for it.
These are only the technical and practical aspects to it. Don’t forget that reading is an immensely pleasurable activity in and of itself. You are taken on a journey where you will see wonderful worlds and amazing characters. You will see how kingdoms rise and fall. You will see great disasters and wonderful miracles. Reading is one of the most enchanting experiences any literate person can have and it is a damn shame to deny yourself that. You are a writer, damnit! Reading should be one of the main (if not the main) reasons you first put pen to paper. You owe it not only to your readers, but also to yourself to read every day.
Make the time to read every day.
Did I just say every day? You bet I did. I just explained how crucial reading is to being a writer, but what’s also important is to do it every day. I’m not saying you should devote hours upon hours to it every day, but reading should be a part off your routine every day. Now of course you don’t have to do it EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’d say about five days a week ought to be fine. This means that you get two days to let all that literature gold you’ve absorbed sink in and really fill that well to the brim.
So about five days a week will be a happy medium, seven would be better, but five is just fine. So how many hours do I suggest you read every day? 1. 1 hour. I know it might be a surprise after recommending you read at least 5 days a week, but I strongly recommend reading at the very least 1 hour a day. Of course you can read more (in fact I insist), but 1 hour will be more than enough time to get a chapter or two read. So 5 hours of reading a week doesn’t sound too bad, now does it?
Remember that this is the bare minimum I recommend. If you only do this bare minimum you will still notice a difference in your “well of creativity” as well as in the quality of your own writing, but it might just take longer for you to notice these changes. If you read more, you will improve faster. And don’t try to be sneaky by reading 5 hours in one or two days and not reading any more that week. It doesn’t work like that. You have to be consistent. You can’t give a plant a whole bucket of water one day and then starve it for the rest of the week. You have to give it water every day for it to thrive.
“But Vian,” I hear you cry “I don’t have an hour every day!” Really? You don’t have a single hour to give every day? You don’t have a few minutes on the toilet, on the bus or train, before bed or even while you run your bath at night to make one hour? I’m sure that if you look for little windows of time where you aren’t really doing anything, you’ll get that hour of reading done at the end of the day.
And don’t try to be clever by doing audiobooks. It must be reading, not listening. I have nothing at all against audiobooks. I love them. But I do not count time listening to one as time reading. Audiobooks are great, but they will not give you the same benefits that an actual book would. Listen to audiobooks when you cannot read at the time and don’t need to use your ears for anything else.
Read different genres.
Now I think I’ve sufficiently explained the importance of reading and how much you need to read, but don’t make the mistake of only reading a single genre. If you love fantasy, don’t read only fantasy novels. If you read and write romance, don’t only stick to romance when you read. You must broaden your horizons. Read from multiple genres and multiple authors. You might be writing a fantasy novel, but if you haven’t read any good romance novels you might find it difficult to get that romantic subplot you’ve been working on to seem authentic and believable. Take inspiration from multiple genres and work them all into your novel. Your writing will be better and your reader will thank you for it.
How reading has helped me.
Now I’ve been telling you what to do and to an extent, how to do it, but I haven’t told you exactly how reading will benefit you. So I will give you the testimony of a writer who has done all this and seen the beneficial results that came from it. That writer is me!
A year ago I was working as a waiter. I hated that job with the burning passion of a thousand suns. I never got lunch breaks unless I worked a double shift (which basically meant about 13 hours) and even then I’d only get half an hour to sit down and eat. I always came home tired and grumpy and I never looked forward to getting up in the morning because I’d have to go to work that day. And I only got a single day off a week. I think it can be safely said that I was not happy.
During this time I never read any books. The free time I had at home I spent on video games and watching whatever tickled my fancy at the time. My well had run dry because of this. Did that stop me from trying to write? Not at all. Did my writing suck because of it? You bet your ass it did. This made me even more upset with my situation and it was around this time that I nearly gave up being a writer.
Fast forward to about seven months later. My family moved and because of that, I was able to quit the job. Now I was jobless and had all the time in the world, but still I never read and my writing still sucked. Three months later I landed my current job which is much better. I have more free time to read and I don’t hate my job nearly as much as I hated being a waiter. This is around the time that I started reading more.
As it happens, my job is only a half day job. I get to work and home by driving with my dad, but he finishes with work about 3 hours after I do and takes about another half an hour to pick me up. In those three and a half hours where I have nothing to do, I read. Every day I sit in a chair and read for 3 hours straight. This has allowed me to read nearly 5 books in a month. In January I started and finished APE –Author –Publisher –Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (which was suggested to me by my wonderful girlfriend). I started reading A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin near the end of January.
I started reading this much about 4 months ago. In these 4 months my writing has improved tremendously and my reading speed has increased a lot as well. I’m happier in general and my well of creativity is never near drying up. I love reading and I highly recommend it to anyone. Looking back, I regret not reading when I was a waiter. Not only would my writing have been better, but I would have been happier in general. Reading would have been the kind of therapy I so desperately needed back then. Reading has helped me in so many ways and it can help you too!
Draw inspiration, don’t copy or plagiarise.
Now I must remind you that there is a huge difference between drawing inspiration from books and copying from books. Do not copy and do not plagiarise. You will not get away with it and you will never recover from the absolute destruction it will bring to your reputation. You wouldn’t want people doing the same with your own original work, so don’t do it to others. Be unique! Draw inspiration from books and turn it into something that’s uniquely you. Don’t plagiarise… Just don’t… I shouldn’t have to say any more about this as it should be fairly obvious why I say so.
So to summarise: You absolutely must read consistently to write well. You must read at least an hour every day for 5 days a week. Your writing will improve from reading and your well of creativity will never run dry. Audiobooks do not count! Read different genres. I am living proof that reading a lot will be nothing but advantageous, so if I can do it, you can too. And lastly, DO NOT FUCKING PLAGIARISE, just don’t. Be original and be creative.
Agree or Disagree? Let me know in the comment section below!