I've been browsing writers.se for a while and I've noticed a lot of folks state you have to READ to be able to write. I'm currently having trouble working time to read fiction into my daily routine.

At first I waited until the kids would go to bed. I noticed then I would read at the most 5-10 pages before I would pass out. In the morning I would remember nothing about the story, let alone the narrative style.

Then I tried getting in some kindle reading during breaks at work. What I noticed was that 10 minutes here and there had a negative cumulative effect. Instead of retaining bits of writing style my mind was starting to ignore the more descriptive pieces of text, only holding on to the actual events that took place.

I need some ground rules on how to get the most out of reading fiction (in order to empower my own writing ability). Should I set aside an entire evening to just reading? Or, should I only do so on the weekends to preserve the "strength" of the words? Have any of you noticed better retention late at night if you bomb your system with caffeine? Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Just to make this clear, quickly: Writers.SE is not a forum, neither is any other SE site. This is a Question/Answer site and you're using it correctly so far. This is, AFAICT, on-topic. I've seen optimal results reading during daytime, no caffeine or any other stimulants, with background classical or abstract music (trance/ambient/etc).
    – Mussri
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 18:31
  • 3
    Thanks for the clarification on SE. It was described to me as a Q/A forum, but I do see the difference. I made sure to read the about/how to write Q's sections to try to stay on-topic.
    – pblock
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 18:38
  • pblock, welcome to the site! Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 3:53

5 Answers 5



  • Schedule time for your reading, just as you would schedule time for writing.
  • Read in an active manner, keeping a notepad, journal, or your chosen way of taking notes, so that you can jot down thoughts and realizations while reading.
  • compose your notes after your reading session, while the information is still fresh on your mind.

If it sounds like studying, that's probably because it kind of is like studying. :) I'm currently trying to get a handle on the writing style and flow of a few authors. I'm finding that how I read, when I want to learn the style and flow is very different from reading for fun.

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    I learn best from textbooks when I take frequent notes. I had never thought to take notes on the fiction I read. Your answer has seriously changed my view on how to learn more about writing. Thank you!
    – pblock
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 19:09
  • np. I happen to be going through the same process myself and found it amazingly helpful. :) Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 19:40

When people say you have to read to write, they aren't saying memorize every technique the authors use and mentally put them into your own stories. No, no, no! They aren't saying that at all. What they mean is that when you read, and the more you read, the more the correct grammar and plot structure just seep into your bones. If you read enough, the correct structure of a story comes out of the very fiber of your being. Therefore, you don't have to even think about if the structure and grammar is correct. You are learning by reading, but not necessarily by analyzing what is in that book. Hope this helps!


Reading/writing is an iterative process. Reading copious amounts of materials will help you develop your writing as you will learn the things you like and the things you don't like. But the reverse is also true. If you want to learn how to read, start writing. It's amazing how producing a few short stories will affect the way you read.

If you're reading through several pages and only remember what happened, that writer is doing his or her job properly. After you've tried to recreate that in your own writing, your brain will start to change its priorities. Suddenly, how other people are writing becomes as important as what they are writing.


I can't give you any advice on how to "get more out of reading". I can only help you read more.

Get a lightweight reader device and always carry it with you, in some very accessible place, like a side trousers pocket. Make sure it's small and lightweight enough that taking it out is never too much hassle - I was using an old palmtop.

Reallocate time you spend doing unproductive stuff to reading. Instead of commuting by car, switch to public transport, grab an ebook reader and spend the time reading. Make reading your habit to kill any moment of time you spend unproductively. Slow day at work? Waiting for customers and already done your chores? Read. I read through like 30 books in a year while riding public transport, waiting in queues, waiting for a train or a bus, eating, waiting for laundry, cooking etc. Allocating 2 hours a day for reading is nearly impossible. Allocating fifteen 5-20min time chunks is entirely viable.

(if the book got me captivated, I would read until morning too. I hated myself for that in the morning, but that still counts...)


Read when you feel like it. If you think that you don't have enough time, either don't read or change your schedule so you have time to. Pull out plots, styles, uses of writing elements, anything that would help.

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