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Become a Better Writer by Reading: 5 Ways Reading Improves Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

If you aspire to be a great writer, you’ll gain mastery of your craft, in part, by reading extensively. Aspiring authors who develop strong reading habits will learn a lot from the books they consume. Read actively in order to discover creative writing strategies, word choice strategies, and syntax control that you’ll invariably want to incorporate into your own writing skills.

Perhaps you wish to write New York Times bestsellers. Then read the work of bestselling authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling. If you’re interested in literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, start reading books by good writers like Margaret Atwood, Tim O’Brien, and Jennifer Egan. If you dream that one day your work will be taught in college and high school classrooms, study the great writing of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Joyce Carol Oates, and Kurt Vonnegut.



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5 Ways Reading Improves Your Writing

Better readers become better writers. You must read books both for pleasure and with the mindset that you’re investing in your own writing craft. The art of reading like a writer does not come instantly; you must work at it. Here are a few key tips and reading strategies to make the act of reading fiction and nonfiction books as productive as possible.

  1. Reading helps you develop critical thinking skills. As you read, ask yourself: “Am I reading good writing? And if so, why?” Decide for yourself who the good authors are, and find great books that inspire you. More importantly, think about why you consider your favorite books to be great. Is it the character development? The author’s use of theme and subtext? If you can critically assess a work of literature and determine what makes good writing good, you’ll be better able to bring a similar thoughtfulness to your own work.
  2. Reading exposes you to a variety of writing styles. Reading different styles of books can help you focus on the mechanics and stylistic choices that make various genres of writing work. Approaching varied works of literature with an eye on the authors’ stylistic tendencies will help you find your own style.
  3. Reading allows you to study grammar in context. Think of reading a novel or short story as a hack that lets you study grammar without having to work through a textbook. The best books clearly communicate their messages, and to clearly communicate, you must have a working knowledge of English language grammar. Since you’re already reading fiction and nonfiction books to learn the craft, why not also take note of how professional authors tackle grammar questions you were never quite sure about in your own work? Study the way they use punctuation and grammar conventions, and you might just spare yourself the headache of reading a formal grammar book.
  4. Reading helps you expand your vocabulary. While there’s no need to take notes like you’re prepping for an exam, note-taking does help ensure that you remain engaged with the book you’re reading. Highlight or write down various turns of phrase that you find especially masterful. Jot down any new words you don’t recognize. Learn them, memorize them, and assimilate them into your own prose in your next writing project.
  5. Reading inspires new ideas. By making reading a fixed part of your regular routine, you can continually expose yourself to new ideas and techniques and recharge your creative juices for your next writing assignment. The truth is that reading is most productive if it becomes a daily habit. Most working authors partition time in their day for reading, just as they set aside time for writing, editing, and rewriting. A disciplined reading habit gives you the daily opportunity to happen across ideas that inspire you—and you may be able to channel that inspiration into a new written work written in your own words.

4 Tips for Improving Your Writing by Reading

In sports, they say you should always compete with someone more skilled than you because it forces you to rise to a higher level of competency. Similarly, reading the writing of authors who have shaped the canon will expose you to excellent craftsmanship and challenge you to up your game. Here are some tips for developing the kind of reading habit that will strengthen your writing:

  1. Read voraciously: Writers are shaped by other writers. The books we read as children influence our tastes and can often have an impact on our writing style as adults. The writers who shape us are almost like unofficial mentors: By reading widely and closely, voracious readers can learn at the feet of history’s most famous writers.
  2. Read with purpose: Don’t just read for pleasure. As you work your way through a novel, study the ways different writers tackle different subjects, how they craft their sentences and story structures, and how they handle dialogue.
  3. Build your vocabulary: If you read Ulysses by James Joyce, for example, chances are your vocabulary will improve. Your work won’t necessarily come out sounding like his, but your process will be informed and elevated by his style, and you’ll likely come out on the other side familiar with new words.
  4. Recognize what other authors do best: Other authors can teach you different lessons in craft: J.K. Rowling can teach you how to build fictional worlds; Nicole Krauss can teach you how to layer multiple narrators and perspectives; Rebecca Curtis can teach you how to use patterns and repetition for humor. All you have to do is study their work.
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