What have you been reading lately? If you discount what you need to read for information or communication with friends, what else have you read?

As a writer you need to keep reading. Words are your tools. Reading is learning how to use the tools well. What does ‘well’ mean? ‘Well’, through this specific lens, means using words to communicate your meaning with great clarity and using them to express yourself, your ideas and your feelings.

It used to be that when I started reading a fiction book I would feel compelled to read it through to the end. It was the old Protestant work ethic, I suppose. I have since broken that habit. If the writing, the characters, the plot don’t engage me I’m gone. Done. Finished.

I’m sorry if it’s sinful, but there are just too many books in this world to waste time plowing through page after page of dull muddy prose. Look in the library or a good bookshop – you’ll see too many books in your favorite genre alone to ever read all of them. And there will be a new crop out before Christmas.

As writers we need to be selective about the fiction we read. It isn’t sinful to quit after a dozen page; it’s your analytical brain kicking in, saying “Don’t read this stuff. It might be contagious. You might end up catching it like a cold and writing this way yourself.”

You need to read fiction that has been so beautifully written that you’re tempted to read it aloud. At the very least your reading slows right down as you savor the words and the way they have been woven together into sentences. And yes, I’ve been caught with my lips moving as I read. Not often – seldom is writing that clear, vivid and beautifully evocative.

Reading for writers is like apprenticeship. You observe the way a strong writer uses his tools. You begin to understand how words can be used with precision, how tiny details convey can convey more than paragraphs of description. How characters can be brought to life.

If you read books of value you will pick up, almost by osmosis, the secrets of how words work and how they can be made to work better for you.

I’ve found a lot of good writing in the blogs I follow – great humor, vivid description, strong feelings. Good writing is not limited to books. Read blogs, read newspaper columnists who convey ideas well.

Find the good stuff, wherever it is, and learn from it.

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