So you want to write professionally, perhaps even to earn your livelihood by writing. If you came to me for coaching about writing, one of the first questions I’d ask you is not why you want to be a writer, although your why for wanting to be a writer is important. No first I’d ask you what you read. What you read for fun, for information, about your writing and writing career, and what you read simply because you’re curious.
I wouldn’t be looking for any specific books or magazine articles or even which writers you follow here on Medium so much as I’d want to be assured that you do indeed read. And that you read a wide variety of things.
If you told me you really didn’t enjoy reading I’d either gently steer you away from taking on writing as a career (and there are a ton of creative things you can do other than writing, truly) or I’d encourage you to begin reading and get in the habit of reading.
Real writers read
Every one I know who makes a living writing reads. We read everything in print that crosses our paths, including the backs of milk cartons. We’re drawn to complex articles that catch our fancy, memoirs about the famous or the infamous or the people next door. We tend to love one or two or three genres of fiction and pursue those in any available few minutes. Some of us even read ourselves to sleep each night. We love ebook readers and our phones which open up new worlds of reading in odd places without carrying a big bag full of books. That many libraries are closed because of the coronavirus is an almost un-imaginal tragedy for readers like me.
And we read books and articles about writing, and how to write better and how to earn a living writing — books of the trade which run the gambit from how to physically get writing done to understanding the subtleties of grammar to how to break the rules of writing once we’ve learned them. We love dictionaries and concordances and paging through a thesaurus — the physical books as well as their online counterparts.
Why is reading so important to writers?
Google that question and you’ll get way more information than any of us can absorb, maybe in a lifetime. My own theory is that by immersing ourselves in words, sentences and paragraphs we begin to subconsciously absorb what writing is all about . I would define that as communication with our readers. I suspect for many of us that began when our parents read to us, if we were that lucky.
If I’m right it’s also important that we read widely, from the amusing through to the complex which exposes us to the variety that writing can be. As we read, no matter if it’s a romance book on a Kindle, an article in a magazine on technology, or our best friend’s blog, we pick up the cues about what’s okay in writing as well as the incredible scope within which we can read.
If you’re not yet a reader
Okay, I’m prejudiced. But if somehow you’re reading this and your not much of a reader in general, you can learn a love of reading. After all, none of us were born knowing how to read let alone how to develop a love of reading.
Here are some things that may work for you:
- Develop better reading skills. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be not to read well in our society. There are all sorts of free programs on YouTube that will help you improve your reading skills. Try several and you’re likely to find one that works for you. (Memo to self — could I learn to spell well on YouTube?)
- When the libraries reopen you can get information about learning to read and how to improve your reading information there.
- At a library find or ask where the book catalog is. Often there is a display that will give you hints about what subjects are where. Pick something that interests you — anything and ask where you can find books on that topic. Find a book or two look like they might be interesting. Take it to a comfortable spot and begin reading. If it hasn’t caught your attention in 10 or 15 minutes repeat the process until you find a book that grabs you. When you do find it, it might be time to get a library card and take that book home with you.
- If you’ve got a bookstore near you, count yourself lucky and spend an hour just wandering around until you find something that you’d like to know more about or a story that intrigues you. Again, find a comfortable spot and spend a few minutes reading to decide if it’s worth it to you to actually buy. Do the same with magazine stands which are often, not always, found in bookstores.
- Thrift stores often have books available for pennys. Grab a few, take them home and read a bit.
Start slowly, like we all did. Explore and the chances are you’ll begin to enjoy the act of reading. Good luck!
When you’re successful at reading you’re much more likely to be successful at writing.
Write well and often,