Reading to write

Reading is something I’ve always done. When I was a kid, my mom would take away TV as a punishment and once I got over the initial sting of being in trouble, I’d go find a book and that was that. As an adult, I’ve often said, I could live without a TV, but you’ll pry my kindle out of my cold dead hands.

I wish I could remember the first time I heard “To be a good writer, you must be a good reader.” I even Googled the phrase to see if I could find someone other than one of my teachers to attribute it to. I can find many an essay or blog post touting that as truth, but I can’t find a source.

Romance is my genre of choice, but I find my writing is enriched by everything I read, so I work to expand my horizons. That said, I’m an emotional person, and I can be deeply impacted by what I read. I read some mystery, but suspense stresses me out and I need to read thru to find out what happened. Sometimes, my schedule doesn’t allow for a marathon reading session.  Horror is a no go for me. The boogeymen take up residence in my brain and I can’t sleep. I enjoy memoir, biography and autobiography. I love in depth news articles about places and experiences different from mine.

My TBR (to be read) pile of Romance books is extensive, but I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at the moment. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal with plans to go back to fiction, but After I read Deborah’s review of Word by Word by Kory Stamper, I made that my next read.  I’m really enjoying it I didn’t expect to laugh so hard at a book about dictionaries.  Both books introduced me to new information about the world I live in.

I find that reading across genres strengthens my writing. Bits and pieces of what I’ve read get manipulated, massaged and woven into fictional tales. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting I read someone’s biography and use their experiences verbatim to create a character. That’s NOT cool.  It’s like cooking, take a physical trait from one story and combine it with a personality trait from someone I’ve encountered and expose it to a life changing event from a from my imagination. Boom! I have a rich, three-dimensional character that people want to read about.

Reading about different geographies introduces me to different locals and potentially different motivations for characters and events. This is another area where it is important to do my research to make sure I really understand how things work. We don’t have typhoons in the Eastern U.S., but hurricane season is real. And, the way we prepare in the Northeast is likely a little different from a Floridian’s preparation. The devil is in the details.

These days, the news is sometimes stranger than the imagination, and plot twists and character flaws are the low hanging fruit. Talk about stressful reading! I do think reading makes me a better writer. How about you, can you read while you have a writing project active? What is your preferred reading genre? What genre stretches you?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once.  She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction

8 thoughts on “Reading to write

  1. Sometimes I feel I’d get more writing done if I stopped reading for awhile, but that’s just not an option for me; I don’t feel right if I don’t have a book or my Kindle in my hand everyday. I read all kinds of fiction and nonfiction. Right now, I’m reading My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, and Roxanne Gay’s new memoir, Hungry. I like literary fiction, some fantasy, speculative fiction, psychological thrillers, and memoir. I don’t really read romance or westerns, but I do like those genres in film. I just love stories of any kind.

  2. I am always reading and frequently many books of many different genres at the same times. A cozy mystery for light reading, a non fiction in an odd subject matter, a book for a class I am preparing to teach, and a book on writing craft. That’s my standard being read stack, although the cozy mystery could actually be any number of genres other than horror. I’m with you on that one.

  3. I completely agree, Lee .It does make one a real good writer. When I started reading aggressively, I found myself absorbed in the book and my writing reflected it nonetheless. reading your article I came across another soul who shares the same thoughts.

  4. I found and still find that reading is my most passionate pursuit. Writing became in my life the progressive outpouring from the reading. Today my novel The Legacy of Limga was released on e-book. When you mentioned kindle and others did as well I thought I’d mention it. Personally I prefer a book in hand not the e-book but for those who may like to read books from an Australian author with Auzzie background Beyond the Ashes, Marranga-Limga, and now Legacy of Limga are all available for download on Kimble. Anyone who is interested…..they were written to be loved and enjoyed. Thanks for this post it made me remember my own great love of books. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s