Why Your Writing Needs You to Be a Better Reader

And how you can do it.

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

Are you guilty, too? Were you ever caught? Hey, we did what we had to do at the time:

As children, we snuck a flashlight into the bed with us so we could read our books under the covers and secrecy of darkness.

As I child, I loved to read. I couldn’t bear to be separated from my books. I relished the cluster of words on my pages that transported me to different worlds and different people. Each book was a gateway to good times and fun adventures, and I never felt happier than when my imagination was being fueled by a book.

Like peanut butter and jelly, reading often accompanies writing, and I soon had a book in one hand and a notebook in the other. If I wasn’t reading other people’s words, I was writing my own. From the time I was nine, I was jotting my thoughts in a journal, plotting my own stories, and spilling my creativity into contest-winning poetry.

But as I grew older, things changed, and so did my passion for reading. My life became exhausted from bouts of depression, stressful jobs, and the consuming demands of adulthood. Reading was soon crowded out by life’s anxieties, and, eventually, I just could not find the motivation or desire to read.

My writing suffered as a result. Occasionally, my mind would try to sputter out a poem here or an article there. Story lines and plot ideas conspired and schemed their escape onto paper, but my writing always withered and died at its conception.

Writing no longer was as natural as it once was. Without the frequent input of reading, there was no longer an output of writing. All the words I once learned, the vocabulary I amassed, and the story-telling techniques once used with ease now denied me access. Without reading every day, my creativity became temperamental, my imagination failed, and my writing was malnourished.

I knew the problem. I wasn’t reading anymore, and, as any writer will tell you, to be a better writer, you must be a better reader.

To be a better writer, you must be a better reader.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

So to resurrect my writing, I picked up my books. Reading was not easy at the start. I couldn’t focus; I procrastinated; I made excuses; I was undisciplined; I was unmotivated.

But my writing was more important to me than my excuses, and I knew I would have to push through these challenges if I were to rekindle my love of reading. I needed to rally my motivation, and so I did.

Here are some ideas and mind tricks that helped me reconnect with reading, stoke my motivation, and breathe life back into my writing.

Just start somewhere.

When I began reading again, I had not the patience or focus for it. So I would begin my reading sessions by setting a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer buzzed, I allowed myself the option of stopping where I was in the book or continuing to read for another fifteen minutes. I usually opted to read on for a little while longer, and when I was finished, I could stop guilt free. It’s a mind trick, but it works.

Read whenever you can.

Many people set aside time to read before bed, but I find that is not an opportune time. I seldom wait till late in the day to read because I am usually too tired and my mind is ladened with the stresses of the day. Choose a time that is right for you, and schedule it as if it were an appointment to a doctor. And never be a no-show.

Stop. Stop. Stop.

If the first 50 pages do not engage you, then the following 250 pages probably won’t either, so stop reading. Give yourself permission to set down the book and move on to another. For example, despite all its acclaim, I have not been impressed with the book Eleanor Oliphant. So I gave myself permission to move on to another book that I like better. If someday I want to return to Eleanor Oliphant, I have that option. But currently, I have moved on to another book in my well-stocked library. Which brings me to my next point.

Keep a list of books to read in the future.

Just on my mobile devices alone, I have 16 books that intrigue me and that I am eager to read. I usually add to the list everyday because I am always learning of new books to read. But it feeds my excitement and motivation knowing I have a stockpile of books waiting on me to love them.

Read with purpose.

You should know why are you reading, and, more importantly, you should know why you are reading that book. What do you want to take away from it? Are you reading for pleasure? Education? Entertainment? Laughter? Your purpose and goal for reading will determine how you engage with the book. Reading an easy summer beach novel will differ from how you read a novel for historical edification. Either way, knowing what you want to obtain from your book will help keep you motivated and on track to reach your goal.

Keep a dictionary and thesaurus within reach.

Look for unknown words. Explore definition, synonyms, and example sentences. A better vocabulary leads to better understanding, which leads to better writing.

Stick with one genre that interests you.

Give yourself the permission and the freedom to be selective in what you read. Nothing will steal your motivation faster than embarking on a book that bores you to tears. So read what you like. There’s plenty of time to incorporate other genres and other authors once you have begun to reignite your passion for books again.

Explore the option of listening to books.

While audiobooks are not everyone’s cup of tea, some book enthusiasts find them just as edifying and pleasurable as a printed book. I personally like both audiobooks and digital books. I find it rewarding to listen to the audio version of my book while I read alongside the digital copy. I find having the book read to me helps my comprehension and engagement.

Always take your book with you.

Everywhere you go, your book should go. Sometimes it’s hard to carve out time or to schedule a book session, so reading on the go is important. Public transport, doctor’s offices, long grocery lines, ect. can all be ideal places to catch a chapter or two. Time away from our books can lead to disengagement, which can be demotivating. So grab your book on the way out the door and look for chances to crack it open.

Set a goal and allow yourself a reward when you reach it.

If you set the goal to read for fifteen minutes and you accomplish it, reward yourself. Rewards make reading more pleasurable and satisfying. It might seem like trickery or bribery, but whatever inspires you to read is what is important.

Reading affects writing and writing affects reading. They are symbiotic and interrelated. You can’t give out what you don’t take in, so you must read, read, read. Find out what tricks works best for you, and make reading a life-long habit.

I write because I breathe. I breathe because I write. I’m sometimes funny but always real.

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