Should You Be Reading?

Writers are always told to read in order to improve, but can reading be bad for development? Can you have too much of a good thing?

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It’s been well established that reading is one of the best ways to improve your own skills as a writer. Reading works from the greats that came before us—or indeed those that are still writing now—can help us improve our craft. But, is it always relevant to you? Should you go and pick up a copy of all the books you’ll find on lists online and devour them?

That depends. There are far too many facets of writing to list but, in order to become a good writer, you need to find yourself. When we write, we put ourselves into the writing. If you were to give twenty writers the same plot outline, the resulting stories would be drastically different. And it’s because of this that I’d encourage caution when reading for the purpose of learning.

It wasn’t until this year that I found who I was as a writer, and it’s still something that I’m fine tuning and discovering as I go along. I’m also acutely aware of my own insecurities and what that means for me; I have a tendency to mimic other people’s styles. This is, largely, down to the fact that I haven’t finished developing yet. Recently I started reading through all of my old writing. A lot of the stories are quite short, and I can skim read them quickly, so I’ve been getting through two or three a day, every day. I took a bit of a break from the nostalgia to write some of my current book. It didn’t go well.

Half a page into what I was writing and I could see the difference. I could see the old writer in me coming back out. And what I was writing was terrible. Everything that I’d spent the last year or so working on, with my style, had gone in an instant.

The only way that you’ll ever become a good writer is if your writing is true to yourself, is yours. I’m not saying that you should stop reading; this is terrible advice to give to anyone, much less a writer. However, I think this is one of those things that aren’t really talked about. A lot of what can benefit you can also be detrimental to your progress under certain circumstances.

So, should you be reading to make yourself a better writer? Definitely. Learn everything from everyone that you can, but make sure that you take the lessons and adapt what you’ve taken to suit you. It’s important that you don’t just mimic these writers. When someone reads your writing they want to read you, not your impression of someone else. You will never write their way better, but no one will ever write in your way better than you.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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1 Comment

  • Sam Kaye says:

    This is a great article and raises a good point. I used to read my favourite authors to try and learn how to write ‘better’. But all I did was upset myself because the quality of their work seemed so unattainable. But then something changed – I asked myself “what actually is it about this scene/paragraph that I like?”
    I learnt to forget about the ‘writing’ and started to look at the bigger picture. From that I extracted techniques rather than style (I am aware there is a close link there) and it has helped me to find myself as a writer. Question everything.

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