A while ago, I would casually read and and casually write, and I was satisfied with what I achieved. But that all changed when people started suggesting that "readers are better writers" and the like. As a result, I started switching between periods of only reading for learning and not enjoying what I read, or writing only to mechanically improve my skill. Unsurprisingly, I lost enjoyment and satisfaction in both hobbies.

What is the best way to go about writing? Should I read a lot because it will help me write well? Should I write almost exclusively to get experience writing? Or should I take a different approach entirely?

Notes: I write all kinds of creative non-fiction (practically all), but my specialties are stage-plays and short serial novels.

EDIT: In case people are wondering how I've changed my harmful routine, I now partially write while I read and partially read while I write. If reading is learning and writing is doing, then no matter what I'm always learning and accomplishing.

4 Answers 4


What's your goal?

If your goal is to write, and reading what you "should" be doing made you stop writing, then stop reading that shit. Avoid whatever is an obstacle to your goal.

That doesn't mean you can't learn the craft of writing, or study techniques or develop methods or use tools. But if you "let the perfect become the enemy of the good," then you aren't writing.

Put the "should" books aside and go write. Write for fun. Write knowing it will suck, and that it's perfectly okay to suck. Editing is the round where you polish off the suckage. But you can't edit a blank page.

Put down the book and go write.

ETA There is no One Best Way to go about improving your writing. You improve by identifying your mistakes and fixing them.

Some people do well with doing a lot of research beforehand, which is what you tried to do. Obviously it didn't work for you; you got blocked.

Some people let it all pour out on the page and fix everything afterward, including plot and structure; this is called discovery writing. In this process, you find the mistakes after your entire first draft is written, and it may involve tearing the whole book apart and reassembling it.

Some people are in-between: a little research beforehand, writing the draft according to a loose structure, and then editing afterwards. For this method, you write a rough draft and polish it a few times, and then it's in good enough shape to hand it to an editor for more fine-tuning.

I think researching is useful, and I also think you get better at the craft the more that you write after you learn what "good writing" looks and feels like. So I think you need to do both. You're done the research for now. Start writing, get your words on paper, and then work with someone else to hone it into "good writing." Then you practice writing well, and once you're comfortable with writing well on your own, then you can go back and do more research.

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    You seem to be the oracle of the site and one the most helpful, so I want I make my position understood. What I want to know is the best way to to improve my writing. I read articles arguing reading vs writing. I want to know if primarily reading will improve my writing skill more efficiently than primarily writing. The problem is not what I once read, it's that I don't know what is better.
    – JD Solomon
    Jan 11, 2016 at 19:57
  • In other words, should I read to help me write, should I just write to help me write, or should I enjoy both without worrying at all?
    – JD Solomon
    Jan 11, 2016 at 20:02
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    @JustinAlexander Oh stop I'm blushing. :) The way to improve at anything is to identify your mistakes and fix them. The first method you chose was "research beforehand." Clearly this has caused a problem. Choose a different method. One suggestion is "Write a lot without worrying, and find an editor to point out what needs fixing." This may work better for you. Then again, it may not. Everyone has a different process. You have to figure out what will work for you by trying it. Your first try identified one process which doesn't work for you. That's a valid result. Try a new process now. Jan 11, 2016 at 20:48
  • If you add all that to your answer I may very well accept it now, ;). Just solve the conundrum of "what is best for improving writing: primarily reading to learn, writing extensively for experience, or another approach entirely." I bet you have a lot to say about a different kind of approach, so just go full throttle. If you wouldn't mind, of course >:)
    – JD Solomon
    Jan 11, 2016 at 22:59
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    Wow thank you so much. I'd give you a bounty if I had a bit more rep.
    – JD Solomon
    Jan 12, 2016 at 1:58

Honestly, reading helps you write in the same way studying cook books helps you cook better. If you read them a lot, you start to learn which spices are usually used with which different meats. You learn which vegetables take longer to sauté properly and what order you should put the food into the pan when you plan to sauté. You will learn that there are certain specific ways you must mix tomato juice and cream when cooking so the cream doesn't curdle. You study the cook books so you don't have to waste time muddling about making mistakes that other people have already learned not to make. If you read enough cook books, eventually, you'll not just learn recipes. You'll learn how to improvise in a pinch because you've learned all the cooking rules.

But until you actually start cooking, you're not a chef. It's not enough just to understand the rules. You have to keep practicing all the techniques so that you can mater them. No matter how many times you read about the best way to mince onions, you're going to need to mince them several times and mess them up while doing it several times before you are any good at mincing. Reading cook books and watching cooking shows help greatly, but they aren't enough.

Anyway, there's no magic formula. You can't just tell someone to read x number of books a month. It's not a prescription. It's not magic. You just read as much as you feel like. You read the kind of books that you want to write, and you eventually learn the usual techniques, themes and cliches. It's not enough to read just the classics. You need to stay on top of the field by seeing the new techniques and trends in your field of publishing.

Finally, you shouldn't only be reading because you feel that you "have to." It should be something you do because you enjoy doing it. You should enjoy reading so much that you do it so often that you have to force yourself to stop so that you can get other things done. If you feel like you need to force yourself, then you shouldn't do so. It's not like medicine you take. It should be a treat you enjoy. It just happens to help you write better.

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    Wow that is an amazing analogy. I never knew how to think of it but now I do, thanks.
    – JD Solomon
    Jan 12, 2016 at 2:52

You already have fantastic answers here, and spot on guidance. All I want to offer is, reading can be learning the craft of writing.

You have a favorite author, or perhaps a favorite book. You can learn the craft from it by identifying what you like about that book, or what you like most about the way the author writes.

Re-read your favorite book, by your favorite author if applicable, and instead of just reading to enjoy the story (which is why you're re-reading it), find those passages that really stirred something in you. That really creepy scene, or that amazing description of setting, maybe the way that certain character came to life for you.

Take the book and do a chapter-by-chapter, and if necessary a scene-by-scene, reverse outline. Nothing detailed or heavy-duty; just one or two sentences summarizing each scene in the chapter, or the entire chapter if you're doing it that way.

Make sure you include things such as whether the scene is a turning scene (things change for the protagonist[s], or their situations), or a reveal scene, etc. Did the scene raise tension? Suspense? Stakes? Did things get harder for the protagonist(s)? Was it a minor win? A loss? You get the idea.

You can then see if a particular structure becomes apparent. Where the author added certain elements of structure - rising tension, a plot point, a cliff hanger.

Then go through that passage or scene with a highlighter and find the bits that really struck home. How did the author paint that setting, that character? How did s/he generate that sense of dread, of tension? What made that passage special for you? Is there a certain wording, or a way of saying something the author uses consistently that you really like?

Making notes and dissecting your favorite books can actually be a better learning tool than sitting down with a craft book.

Whatever you choose to do, best of luck!


The Benedictine rule has an overriding principle that has kept the community going for more than a thousand years. Ora et labora, which means work and pray The more you read good books, the more you will know what to do or not do. Then write, write, write, because the muse cracks her whip and wants you to dance.

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