Why Reading Makes You a Better Writer

Graffiti BridgeYou’ve been saying something that you think is profoundly true for a while. You feel like you unlocked a great secret, hack or have an inside track on the universe.

Then either you can’t express it well or someone with a larger soap-box comes along and says it before you can,

You have a moment of “ah-ha! I really am so brilliant!” and then “Damn! but now I can’t take credit because he said it first.”

This affirmingly frustrating situation happened to me recently.

Good writers read.

I re-tweeted Jeff Goins the other night (MT=Modified Tweet, I changed his a little):

@CoffeeBooksBeer: Hear, Hear! MT @jeffgoins: Good writers read. It’s just that simple. http://t.co/5ocIVqPd

His article makes the case that reading makes you a better writer. Not exactly groundbreaking material here and I promise that isn’t my entire brilliant idea.

I got a response saying simply: “data?”

At first I was going to dismiss it (troll?!) but I reconsidered. Sure, there is abounding anecdotal account of reading influencing great writers but is it a truism or actually true? Is there data to show causality?

It bothered me enough that I took up the research challenge. I rather quickly found two studies that support the relationship. I (admittedly rather smugly) wrote back linking those studies as well as citing “bevy of experiential ‘data’ of acclaimed, successful writers.”

Mischief managed. With satisfaction I took my own advice and settling down with my book and the story could easily have ended there. But little did she know…

Reading gives you language.

Definition of love

The tendrils of the read-write connection resurfaced again a few days ago. I was listening to Episode #91 of the Lifestyle Business Podcast. If you are a blogger, freelancer, solo-biz owner or entrepreneur (newbie especially) you simply must tune in – nothing has been better for biz idea generation than Dan and Ian and they have a great guru-free vibe.

In this episode Dan was talking about the difference between delivering content via audio/video and via books. He said while podcasts can be more relationship oriented and engaging, books and “writing has the potential to give people the language with which to talk about things.”


Not even attempting to be humble here: I’ve been saying something similar for years.

Now, to be fair, I’ve used it commonly to justify reading and quoting some personality-type and self-helpish books. Eyeroll if you want but they seep you in the language to internalize and express your human condition.

Reading exposes you to the words, vernacular, relate-able stories and information to describe something you know but didn’t have the language for previously. Even if there isn’t an “actionable take away” you have better, deeper language to comprehend and, if you choose, communicate.

The thrust is the same though for any type of content you consume and you can and will bring that knowledge to your writing.

Find the words.

“Use the right word, not its second cousin” – Mark Twain

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”Helen Keller By reading you are learning and strengthening connections to lovely, amazing verbiage. Not only does reading material specific to your business, hobby, field, or problem seep you in generic language, but reading (period) exposes you to words (period).

The english language is one of the largest in the world. There is a pluthera of verbiage to choose from. Apart from SAT prep classes, ingesting literature is the best way to expose yourself to as many bon mot as possible so that you can then use them to refine and hone what you want to say.

While it might not be showcased often I have a pretty broad vocabulary (thanks Gramma). Yet I’ve had to consult the dictionary many times whilst consuming “trashy” books. I even had to look up a few words in Harry Potter.

Fiction, romance, fantasy, comic books it doesn’t matter, the mark of a good book in my estimation is one that teaches you something. New, challenging and enlightening language can be found in every genera.
Reading a book

Reading helps you make deeper connections to your own experiences and emotions and then find the right words to express yourself. Thus reading makes you a better writer and, more generally, a better communicator. And it is pretty damn enjoyable.

Now go read.

Brilliant thought that someone espoused before you could? Share it and we’ll give you some kudos. Or please share what you’re reading – always nice to get good recs!

Images from Flickr under Creative Commons License: Graffiti Bridge by PenningtronBilly Rowlinsonkaterha and ckaroli.


  1. Great post Joanna, it definitely behooved me to read it. Your point of reading anything is something intake to heart since I am a self admitted television watcher. My reading frequency falls somewhere between pathetic and non-existent. Although I am trying, my typical reads are either CoffeeBooksBeer or a fictional novel picked up at Hudson News in the terminal. The former being, as you well know, the more important of the two.

    Right now I got The Hunger Games or the second installment of the Girl Who Played with Fire to read…suggestions for which to go after first?

    • Thanks Barry! I’m glad you got something out of it and bonus points for “behooved.” Appreciate too that CBB rates higher than fiction, I’m flattered. I think Blogs and other online reading certainly “count” as well – though they do different things for your brain then books. I certainly have been trending more towards the former as of late but have been challenging myself to get in at least 20minutes of the latter a day. Especially as you are doing your own, immersing yourself in that world and learning the styles of what you like and don’t – educating through your own preferences – is good stuff for your own blog.
      Hmmmm, as for book selection: It sounds like you aren’t chomping at the bit to read “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and it starts pretty slow (if memory serves) so that might not entice you to keep reading. I would highly, highly recommend the Hunger Games series – esp before the movie comes out. I got into them really quickly, loved Katniss and the storyline, so I would suggest going after that one first. Would love to hear what you think once you get started/finish.
      Kudos for the attempt!


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