THE ONE THING YOU MUST DO TO WRITE A (GOOD!) BOOK
You'll hear lots of advice about what to do if you want to write a book, most of which I have said myself to aspiring writers. Set a word count target, find a writing buddy, join a writing group, outline your book, do your research, and so on. But my favourite piece of advice, mainly because it's so much more relaxing, is to read widely. As Stephen King said, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Readers don’t necessarily become writers, but I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t read. I read for enjoyment but since becoming an author, I’ve also realised that the hundreds (if not thousands!) of books I’ve read have had a subtle but significant impact on my writing. Here are just a few of the ways reading has helped me become a better writer.
1. It builds vocabulary
When I was seven or eight years old, I remember reading the word ‘daisies’ in a story book and not knowing what it meant. That was when I was first introduced to a dictionary – a dog-eared brick of a book that sat on my Dad’s bookshelf. Fast-forward a few decades later, and I still look up words in the dictionary, although the process is much quicker these days (thank you, Kindle). But it’s not just anecdotal - researchers have backed up the theory that reading broadens your vocabulary based on the Matthew effect – a term that refers to a biblical verse which states: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew 13:12
2. It helps create believable characters
Reading helps develop empathy which is a skill every author needs. It’s hard to develop authentic characters if you struggle to understand the mental states of other people in real life. Literary fiction in particular has been shown to help society relate to others by gauging people’s emotions, according to published research in Science. As a writer of domestic noir thrillers, empathy is even more important as I take my inspiration from the complex relationships of families. Whatever type of book you are writing though, the ability to create a well-rounded, believable character is one of the most critical skills in story-telling.
3. It improves concentration
Writing for any length of time is a task that has become more difficult over the years. Social media and the internet have fractured our attention as we furiously multi-task and switch between devices and platforms. Studies show that it’s common for people to work on a task yet still be checking email, chat on What’s App, monitor social media, and interact with co-workers – all at the same time! And while we might be enjoying those dopamine hits, this type of behaviour reduces productivity. Luckily, a single book still has the power to keep me engrossed for hours at a time and I believe it’s this regular practice that helps me focus enough to write a solid 1000 words most days.
4. It develops writing skills
There are many books I wish I’d written because the prose, style, and skill of the author captured me and I will often highlight passages or sentences and analyse them at a later date. Sometimes, I’ll even get my geek on and take notes! It’s fair to say that since I became an author, reading hasn’t just been an entertaining experience but an educational one as well and there’s no doubt this has influenced my work for the better.
5. It keeps me relaxed
Have you ever tried to be creative when you’re stressed? With two young children and a business to run, my life is fairly hectic at the best of times and while I’d love to think I’m easy-going, my husband would probably say otherwise! Luckily, we’re both huge readers and it’s a great way for us to wind down after a busy day of dealing with two boys and trying to work full-time. In fact, reading may reduce stress by as much as 68 percent according to a Sussex University study and while there are plenty of other ways to relax, you can’t beat curling up with a good book – it’s pure happiness, which is probably the reason I wanted to become an author in the first place.
This post was originally written as a guest post for Book Reviews For U.