Effective reading for writers

Successful authors, literary agents and editors all agree that aspiring and already published authors need to read. In fact Stephen King recommends reading about seventy books per years, or a book about every four to five days.


Now this might seem excessive at first but let’s look at the reasons to understand why reading is so important to writers.

Firstly, reading expands the vocabulary and helps with improvement of writing style. Secondly it’s always easier to judge someone else’s work fairly than your own. By understanding what works in their chosen genre, good character development, effective story structure and so on, writers are able to reflect more efficiently and critically on their own work. Lastly, it is important to read to understand what direction the industry is moving into and become aware of particular trends and fads.

But what does reading a book every four days looks like in reality and how can one read in the most useful manner?

How long it takes to finish a book depends on how quick you read. Personally I find that in order to meet my twenty-five percent quota for the day I need to put aside daily three to four hours. That is a lot of time. So how do I do that? Certainly there are times where I read consciously and leisurely, perhaps while sitting on my balcony. But other days when I’m pressed for time, I have been reading in the gym while on the treadmill, during the preparation and consummation of meals and yes even while brushing my teeth. Finally, the brutal truth is that when one cuts back on TV, Internet browsing and magazine reading precious time begins to free up.

The second part of the question as how to read in a meaningful way as a writer is a bit more complex. There are certainly many paths and I encourage you to unearth the one that works best for you. Personally I like to always have a pen and two notepads with me while I read. The smaller sized notepad is used for words that I have to look up (either directly on my Kindle or if I read a printed book on one of the various downloadable dictionary apps). After familiarizing myself with the meaning,I write it down, its explanation and synonyms.

Secondly, whenever I find a sentence or passage that is particularly inspiring or astutely written, I also note it down in the smaller booklet. This serves to improve one’s personal writing style and become more aware of various word/phrase usages.

Thirdly, I ensure that I pay attention to the structure of the novel. Each novel can be broken down into four equal parts: The Set-up, The Response, The Attack and The Resolution. Particular attention should be paid to the two pinch points, the two plot points and the midpoint.

The reason why it is important to pay attention to these beats or milestones is to pace the novel and keep the reader intrigued.

Next post will focus in detail on these beats and what exactly should occur at each of them.

Happy reading!


2 Comments on “Effective reading for writers

  1. Pingback: Novel structure | Margarita Ryerkerk.com

  2. Pingback: Year in Review – How many books have I read? | Margarita Ryerkerk.com

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