With a simple browsing of the library or bookstore shelves, you can locate many wonderful books written on the subject of writing. Topics include how to hone your craft, how to write for certain genres, how to write for children, how to navigate through grammar rules, and so forth. I’m not knocking these books, because they all do (if well written and researched) have some merit and will offer a certain amount of help when it comes to putting pen to paper. But few discuss the best way to become a better writer.
You could also attend the many and diverse writers conferences that can be found throughout the country–and world, for that matter. Here, you will hear from bestselling authors, sought-after agents, career-making editors, and other giants of the literary world. From morning to night, you will scurry from workshops to keynote speakers and from critique groups to panel discussions. You will be exhausted from overbooked days, but you will gain much knowledge and insight into the joys and tribulations of writing. But it’s doubtful that you will ever hear the best way to become a better writer.
Finally, you could shell out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for writing classes or even one-on-one mentoring, where you will spend much time working through writing exercises, learning how to overcome writers’ block, and discovering new ways to unleash your inner creative self. But, alas, you still will probably not learn the best way to become a better writer.
I can say all this because-with the exception of the mentoring–I have done every one of these things. And, to a degree, each one helped in some targeted manner. But I can honestly say that none has helped me become a better writer more than this one thing…are you ready?
The best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. What? Are you serious? Yes, I am! Writers are readers–or at least they should be if they want to become better. But there are rules to this (of course!). For instance, you can’t be like my 15-year-old son whose reading, outside of required reading for school, consists of the sports section of the newspaper. And, you can’t just read FB and tweets all day and call that reading–or you will end up writing everything in acronyms.
I know that reading is an absolute integral part of a writer’s toolbox. It has worked for me, and every other writer who is serious about getting better. I can even see it working with my 6th grade daughter. Cayla is an amazing writer and has been since about the 3rd grade. She doesn’t always spell everything correctly, and she doesn’t always get the grammar rules right (who does, really?), but her creativity, story formulation, sentence structuring, and vocabulary usage are far beyond her years.
Her secret? Cayla reads every single day. It’s her absolute favorite thing to do. She constantly challenges herself with the level and content of what she reads. And, without even realizing it, she has learned to read like a writer. When I read her stories (she always writes fiction when she has the choice–unlike her nonfiction mom) I’ll ask her where she got certain ideas or why she decided to use the point of view she did. Her answer is always, “Oh, they did that in the last book I read and I thought it was really cool, so I wanted to try it.”
She has discovered that the key to reading is to learn to read like a writer. Next week, I’ll talk about exactly what I mean by that and how to do it.