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How To Be A Better Writer: Reading Is Essential

How To Be A Better Writer by Charles Sledge

I’ve never met or heard of a successful author who wasn’t also a voracious reader. People who read a lot make much better writers than those who do not. I have always had a love of reading and writing. I remember as a kid reading different books about soldiers in war or knights fighting dragons or stuff such as that and wanting to write my own versions. So when I was about ten I got a notepad and began writing down my first “book”. Of course it was atrocious and I no longer have it but I do remember looking back on it years later.

Though again there was so much that was off about it at the center there was actually a three act story and a decent plot if the actually writing was awful. Point is the reason I was able to write something that resembled a story was because I had the framework for it in my head. It would be like watching fighters you whole life. Studying them and having a front row seat to both their fights and training. You would pick up on  so many different things.

It is these little things that make the difference in the long run. When you get familiar with a structure you can then bend and use it how you wish. Once you learn the basics you can then put in your own flavor. Which makes for great writing. Reading is just as essential to being a good writer as actually writing is. Once I started writing for about a year I could pick up a book and immediately tell where the writing had fallen short. Then books that were well written I internalized and kept as scripts in my mind for how good writing should be.

Good Writing

Say you were in the middle of a field on an alien planet. This planet had the same atmosphere and such as earth but no internet access. You were stuck in the tribal age that humanity has spent most of its time in. Now let’s say you had abundant resources at your disposal and had to build a house what is the first thing you would do? Some would just try throwing a bunch of things together using the fail and try method. Other may go ask a neighbor who has built a house before to describe it to them. While another may go an look at an actual structure and use that. This is assuming of course you had no previous knowledge of constructing a house.

Of those three methods looking at an already built structure is going to help you the most. You could fail your entire life and never get it right using the try and fail method. A description and instruction while valuable is not the same as seeing the real thing. Seeing the real thing is going to give you the best idea of what it is that you are shooting for. Seeing it allows it to imprint in your mind and give you a place to start working from.

This is how good books function to your writing. They provide an example of what it is you are shooting for. When you get that example in your head it provides you a framework from which you can structure your writing. You have an idea of what you are shooting for. Instead of stumbling blindly around hoping to hit the right mark or relying on a vague description you get to see the thing up front. As another example imagine you had no idea what a lion was and were asked to identify one. The fail and try method would be like pointing at every creature you pass hoping to get it right, the listening would be like someone sayings “It’s like a cat but bigger and meaner”, where as the seeing method would be actually seeing a lion and then identifying it.

Influx Of Good Information

Your mind can process more than you could possible give it. Awhile go I wrote about the key to getting past “writer’s block” which essentially comes down to having a constant influx of good knowledge. Knowledge from experience, knowledge from listening to those wiser, and knowledge from good books that you read. Over time I have found that my biggest gains have come from the books I’ve read.

I can only do so much with my time. I can’t try everything a hundred different ways until I find the best, I value my time. So this vastly limits how valuable experience is going to be for me. I am limited in who is around me. I can reside in only one geographical space at one time. So I am limited by the wise around me as well as I can only talk to the wise who are living. Books cut through all these limitations. Geography, time, or even life itself is no longer an obstacle. I can read wisdom from Roman Emperors to billionaires.

Good books are an essential part of making the most out of your life. You have to read. For life, for writing, for success you have to get in the habit of reading good books. There is no way around this. Sure you can try the trial and error method which don’t get me wrong has it’s value but is vastly overestimated in it. You could try listening to those around you, who knows maybe you have some very wise people around you, or you could go to the source those who have proven themselves to the entire nation and sometimes world. Who do you think is going to have more value for you Andrew Carnegie or your next door neighbor who made some money in stocks? The same applies to good writing. Read good books and books about writing from great authors.

If you have any questions you would like to see answered in a future post send them to me at charlessledge001 (at) gmail (dot) com. If you found value in this post then I would encourage you to share this site with someone who may need it as well as check out my books here. I appreciate it. You can follow me on Twitter here.

-Charles Sledge

Charles Sledge

  • Charles, I’ve recently started working on a fiction novel and was wondering if you had heard of/used the Snowflake Method for fleshing out the book. Seeing as you’ve written your own books, got any pointers to keeping things going smoothly?

    • Hey Unabashed yes I’ve actually used to snowflake method for some fiction writing I did. I found it to be very helpful especially compared to writing a book as I go. My non-fiction books I write stream of conscious so I can’t say how it would work with that but for fiction it works great. The planning really helps I use the outline in Randy Ingermanson’s book but good outlines can be found online as well. I would also highly recommend checking out the heroes monomyth or journey by Joseph Campbell and seeing if you can make the two work together. I would say of the two Campbell’s is probably stronger but no reason they can’t be combined. That’s what I was in the process of doing before I decided I needed to focus on more profitable ventures. Though I will return to it one day once I am more financially stable. Hope that helped.