From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Reading

Of course. This might be a bit of an obvious choice, but to be a good writer you need to be a great reader. I'm one of those people who think the best idea is to read as widely and deeply as you can. Even if its not your genre, even if its crappy writing, even if its a textbook, I feel like you can learn something from it, if not enjoy it. Here are different kinds of books you might look in to.

Novels, old and new. This is another obvious recommendation, that novelists read novels, but my point is that we should read all kinds of novels. Read novels published from last year, in the 1800s, in ancient Greece and modern China. Read romance, historical fiction, horror, fantasy and sci-fi, modern mainstream, paranormal, steampunk, and I would say most importantly, the classics. Read everything. I think every writer will tell you this, but it bares repeating, and its something we can all work on. Unless of course there is no book you haven't read, in which case you should just read them all again.

Magazines. Literary of course. Thats a given. But also magazines for science and gardening and architecture and animal husbandry. All that. National Geographic is a classic, and one of my favorites. They are a fun, quick way to both read new work and learn about things you might not know much about.

Biography and memoir. Get in some good non-fiction. It can help you really get into the head of someone else, which will help in making your characters more developed.

The Bible. I know, I know, but I'm being serious. Even if you're not religious, to say the Bible cannot be ignored is an gross understatement. I wish I remembered where, but I heard someone once say that the absolute best source of creative inspiration for writers was the Bible, and I think that might be a good point. While you're at it you might try the Qur'an, the Talmud, Confucius, the apocrypha, the Ramayana, other cool stuff like that.

Textbooks. I know they're boring. Trust me, I just graduated. But still, the reason for why read textbooks is simple; it is always worthwhile to learn. Even glancing at a couple charts every now and then is better than not. Maybe your next MC is a chemist or art historian. You might need a textbook for that. At least you would if you were me.

Anyway, hope this helps. I'm going to have to do better at taking my own advice as far as this goes, and expand both my reading time and substance. Any recommendations from you all?

Sarah Allen


  1. I generally only read fiction in genres that I enjoy. Though if I hear about a book with a story that interests me in another genre I'll try it, but I don't seek out books from other genres. I do supplement my reading with a fair amount of non-fiction, generally history.

  2. Spot on. "To be a good writer, you need to be a great reader." I couldn't agree more!

  3. You're absolutely right. We forget that we should read outside out "genre". I also agree about the Bible - some of the psalms are so beautiful.In fact I think I have the title for my new novel from a psalm.
    Good post.

  4. So true! Although, I must admit, it is very hard to read out side of my genre... Need to get over this though, because inspiration comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone.

  5. "Read 1000 pages for every 1 page your write." - Sherman Alexie.

    I think I still have a Q hangover from yesterday, as I've been quoting people all over the place today. :)

  6. I'm trying to keep my reading list eclectic. One of my favorite things to read is magazines from the 1940s. They're perfect research for my WW2 stories. :-)

  7. So true Sarah! I have an old home ec. text book from 1956 and it's one of the most interesting things I've ever read! It's amazing how they used to teach girls how to ,"care for their man and their house"'s like a history book. If you don't read you don't have much chance of becoming a writer..great post! Peace Sarah..

  8. This makes me feel guilty because I know I don't read as much as I should. However, in my defence, I have to say that during my 60+ years I HAVE read thousands of books. Almost all genres - except horror, since I don't want nightmares!

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  10. :D

    I love reading and absolutely understand the guiding principle behind that in-comment quote, but I'd be doomed at even a tenth that reading-to-writing ratio.

  11. Hi,

    Found you via A-Z.
    Great post!

    With eclectic taste in books and avid reader, I guess I've explored every darn avenue of every genre, and although I write romances - contemporary and historical - I adore history so historicals are bliss and, I indulge! ;)


  12. Okay, I just discovered Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novels - they are like Agatha Chrisie but take place in Canada. They are just fun, simple reads that satisfy my longing for life in small pastoral villages and a good murder mystery. I downloaded them on Kindle for PC.

  13. It's all good, even the textbooks!
    Hey, on another note, I just awarded you a Versatile Blog award. Stop by and pick it up! Catherine

  14. I heard someone at a conference say that you should read a 100 books in the genre you want to write in before you start writing. I think that's great advice.

  15. You should see all the books I'm reading right now. It's crazy, but so fun!
    Right now:
    The Bible
    a writing textbook
    Harry Potter (2nd time)
    The Woodsman's Daughter
    The Hole in the Gospel

  16. Great post - that picture of the bookcase makes me drool.

    When I am finding it hard to get the time to read I listen to audiobooks. They're pretty cheap from and go straight to your iTunes account. They even have book on the craft of writing.

    We are big book horders, my 13yr old is decorating her room in a library theme :)

    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  17. Yep, I couldn't agree with you more :)

    I actually love reading non-fiction even though I know I'll never write non-fiction.

  18. Thank you for your comments everyone :) Keep up the reading!


  19. I love to read both fiction and non-fiction. If I am studying a topic I do a lot of reading around it while I'm studying. When I was at college we did a topic on Russia from 1900 to 2000 and I brought 6 or & books on key events in the period.

    Great post

  20. Read, read, read! Excellent advice for the aspiring writer. Also, great advice for the aspiring parent. It is so important to foster that love of reading at a young age. Reading is one of the few activities which we cannot outgrow.

  21. Great post. I'm with you on reading all sorts of books. I used to read romance and mystery when I was younger (teens to college) and I've expanded that to fantasy and science fiction as well in more recent years. I love the current series I'm working on, Foreigner by CJ Cherryh. Though I've taken a bit of a break to read some of Chekhov's short stories.

  22. I used to not like to read when I was younger. Now I love to read and I believe that my writing has improved because of it.
    Great advice!

  23. Since I have begun my own trek into writing I read books totally differently now. I just see so much more including the flaws.


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