If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. — Stephen King
Stephen King knows what he’s talking about. Aside from actually writing, reading is probably the best way to cross-train your writing mind and strengthen your writing skills.
You could also think of it as feeding your writing muscles. Just like any other muscle, you can care for your writing muscles by using them regularly and making sure you get good nutrition.
Read books in your genre. There are a lot of good reasons to read in your genre, but I’m only going to touch on a couple of them. For one, it will help you familiarize yourself with the tropes and cliches common in your genre, so you know what your potential readers want to see, what they’re tired of, and how you can subvert their expectations.
It’s also a great way to learn any specialized skills or techniques for your genre, such as building a believable world for speculative fiction or perfecting the slow burn for romance.
Read books out of your genre. Eating only one food does not make for good nutrition. Likewise, in order for reading to benefit our writing, we need to read a wide variety of genres, styles, and formats. If you read only within your genre, you’ll miss out on a lot of excellent writing that you could learn from.
Read short stories and flash fiction. In these shorter formats, every word has to work for the story. There’s no room for freeloaders. Reading short fiction can help you tighten up your 180k epic fantasy novel, too.
Read essays and poetry. Great news — you’re in the right place! Medium has both in abundance. Good essays demonstrate how to arrange ideas in a logical order, and poetry teaches us to make our writing beautiful.
Read the news. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Scanning the headlines can generate inspiration for scenes, plot points, and characters.
Plus, paying attention to the news can show you what people are thinking about helping you keep your work relevant.
Read online resources. There are quite a few successful writers who share their knowledge and experience for free on the internet, as well as many who offer classes and workshops. I talk in more detail about inexpensive resources in this article, but here are a few of my favorites.
Read craft books. Books specifically designed to teach you to write better are obviously valuable but don’t take them as gospel. A lot of the ones I’ve read take the stance that if you don’t write just the way they say, then your writing is crap and always will be.
That’s absolutely not true. You have to write the way that works for you. So read the craft books, try their suggestions, apply whatever is helpful — and set the rest aside. It’s not for you.
What are your favorite books? Which ones would you recommend to improve writing skills?