Writing Tips

#WritingTips No, Reading Is Not An Option.

As an author and full-time editor, I’m coming across more and more writers who don’t read their own genre, or—even worse—don’t read at all. There are generally two types of these writers.

1. Writers who claim to read but obviously don’t (and I’ll get to how it is obvious later).

2. Writers who haven’t read anything since they left high school twenty years ago.

Spoiler Alert: Neither of these options is okay.

Writers, please, oh please, you must read—and you must read often, especially in your own genre. As the famous Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” I adamantly agree with him.


Reading is the foundation of writing. Much like how crawling helps a child learn how to walk, then run, and so on, reading helps a writer learn how to form sentences, structure a plot, and introduce something new and interesting to the market. That last one is a big deal (and I think the most overlooked one). This is also the main way agents/publishers/readers figure out you’re lying if you claim to read but you don’t. Recently, I was reading an article from an agent who was talking about his number one pet peeve in query letters. There is a huge trend in writers saying, “My work is better than anything X genre has ever produced.” This signaled to him that A. You don’t read X genre, and B. You don’t respect your own genre, fellow co-workers, or your readers. So why are you writing in this genre? He’s not the only one with this opinion either. Another article by Writer’s Digest pokes fun of this trend: 10 Ways to Never Get Published.

Constantly reading allows you to familiarize yourself with the genre and to see how the genre grows. As an example, I’ve seen MAJOR changes in young adult since I was fourteen. (And they are awesome changes!) But if I had stopped reading YA when I started seriously writing it, I wouldn’t know what readers are looking for. I wouldn’t know what has been done already. I wouldn’t know the appropriate language, word count, or topics/themes for that audience. I, basically, wouldn’t know anything. I wouldn’t have those “tools” Stephen King talked about in regards to writing.

So pick up a book. Pick up five. Try a new one, try an old one, try one you never thought you’d read, research the latest releases, talk to authors in your genre, study Writer’s Digest and Publishers Marketplace, and stay up-to-date on publishing conversations like #MSWL. Even if you’re not trying to get an agent or publisher, publishing feeds are great (and easy) places to read about current trends and market needs.

You’re not losing writing time by reading. In fact, you’re enhancing your writing by reading.

So go pick up that book you’ve been dying to read and fall back in love with reading all over again. After all, reading is the reason you started writing in the first place. Reading is why every writer started writing. Reading is why every writer can write.


Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.


If you would like a signed copy of any book in The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson.com. Barnes & Noble in Wichita has a few copies left, and they will ship you one.

Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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This THURSDAY, I will host #AuthorinaCoffeeShop Episode 7 on Twitter at 7 PM (CDT) via @AuthorSAT. I normally host it on Friday, but a few of you have expressed Thursday as a better day, so I will probably test out the next four episodes (7-10) on Thursday to see which days are best. I hope to see you there!

63 thoughts on “#WritingTips No, Reading Is Not An Option.

  1. I stopped reading for quite a bit and finally picked up a book again and almost immediately noticed how my writing has a smoother finish, an overall shinier polish to it. We constantly need to learn and grow with our writing, it’s as apart of us as breathing and our organs.

    1. I did that to myself as well! When I was in college, it was much harder to read YA since I was constantly reading for my college courses, but eventually, I realized I still had to keep reading YA often, no matter what. Reading helps tremendously. It’s vital, and I thank those who helped me remember that back in the day.

  2. I read every story set on Mars that I can find since that is the setting of my current WIP. I’ve also started reading romances since I am Science Fiction Romance now. Before you couldn’t catch reading romance with a ten-foot pole. I believe I thought it was too girly or some such nonsense, like the color pink. (I still don’t like the color pink).

    I have always read widely in SF even if it wasn’t the classics. Libraries are great because apparently all I can find in the bookstores is Star Wars Universe and Star Trek Universe. I also read a lot of science articles. I could never imagine trying to write without reading.

    1. I love how you adjusted your reading based on what you wanted to write. I think that is a research aspect often looked over. (Surprising, but true.) Like hating romance, but wanting to write it, so then you started reading it and your opinion changed. What an awesome story. Thanks for sharing it with everyone!

  3. I read in spurts, but I do know people who hate to read because of how it was forced upon them in high school. Odd way of putting it, but I see their point. You’re given a book and told to read a certain amount. Enjoyment isn’t factored in or nurtured, so many people simply lose a love of reading. You react to it like a chore. I was like that after a while when I was bored with nearly every book I was assigned. Wonder if the system would be better if you give kids a list of books for them to choose from and do reports instead of tests. Even chapter analysis papers would work.

    1. Oh, yes! That is another great topic, but I agree with you. I think reading should be enjoyable, and they definitely don’t encourage enough enjoyable reads to (at least) balance out the ones the force on everyone.

      1. I’ve been hearing from a few friends that things are worse these days. A push for non-fiction like biographies because the answers are more direct or something. One friend’s daughter simply stopped reading out of school because she says it isn’t fun any more.

      2. That’s sad! I know I had some frustrations about being forced to read certain things in school, but I still read what I wanted outside of school (and even some of my teachers gave me great recommendations). They really should add more free reading time to the curriculum.

  4. I’d sooner give up writing than reading, if forced, because reading is the input, the nutrition, the good, raw stuff. Writing is nothing but thought made tangible, and even if my pen (and keyboard!) were taken from me I’d still have my dreams and imagination. I’d sneer at any supposed writer who doesn’t read, as such a person might conceivably be an adequate technician but will never, ever, amount to anything remotely akin to an artist.

    1. It is so difficult (and scary) to think about that unimaginable scenario: reading or writing. But I agree with you. I read so much more than I write. It is the foundation of everything. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  5. All of this: agree!! I can’t imagine writing but not reading – for all of the reasons here. And also, I might add, it’s just one of the greatest things to do in the world. Why miss out on all of the enjoyment of reading?

  6. I’m sorry to hear that people put aside reading entirely once they decide to write (if they even liked reading at all!). Those writers miss out on so much.

    1. Agreed! I don’t think it’s intentional. I think it happens because they don’t feel like they have time to do both, so they end up losing reading without ever really realizing it. The real issue arises when they realize it but decide not to change it anyway.

  7. I haven’t measured my writing to reading ratio, but assume it’s somewhat even. I watch national news reports on TV to capture the language used to describe key events, then I compare the “words used” to articles on the same subject in the New York Times.The newspaper wins.

  8. I love to read almost as much as I enjoy writing. Trouble is, the busier I get, the less time I have to read. Yet, reading is a MUST, a tool of the trade. Without taking the time to do so, particularly in the genre one writes, toolboxes surely get rusty. Pick up a book today. Make time. Do yourself a favor. Great post above!

    1. Yes! Agreed! I think you are 100% correct. Many of the writers I’ve spoken with (who I have talked into reading again) have expressed just that: Once they started writing, their free time lessened, and they didn’t feel like they had time to read anymore. The key is not to use that free time for only one thing. You must balance reading and writing. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  9. I could not agree more with this post! Reading helps to get writers in the flow of good writing, plot, timelines and building characters. I would find it impossible to write if I wasn’t such an avid reader! Great advice!

  10. Completely agree. The enjoyment of a good book is definitely what has inspired me to pick up a pen over the years, and it continues to inspire me today. I read often, and I absolutely love it. My aim is to one day write a book which I will be proud to see on my bookshelf alongside the well-thumbed tomes which made it possible ☺ Great post.

  11. I enjoyed this article and believe reading is complimentary to improved writing. I’ll add in the case of developmental learning writing comes before reading. In brief, better writers become better readers as well.

  12. I’m a newbie author but I’ve read extensively in my genre (post-apocalyptic). The one thing that sticks out as I write is to not be intimidated by the books I read. You are getting to know your friends is how I look at it. On paper they are your competition, but if all you see is competitors in every writing endeavor you will NOT be successful as a writer. Use those other books to craft your work to be as gooder as you can make it (see, my grammar sucks and I’m an author!). They set some ground rules for you–you can’t write the exact same thing for instance–but they also show you the path to success. Then again, writing is pretty much like everything in life: it’s easier if you aren’t a jerk!

    That said, I write all the time and I spent years reading to my kids, but my 10 year old just doesn’t like reading to himself. Some people just don’t have that gene I suppose. Still, I try!

    1. “You are getting to know your friends.” I LOVE this. Thank you for your comment. I think bringing up intimidation in regards to writers reading their own genre is a huge factor as to why a lot of writers slowly stop to read. I’ve seen it happen to others many times. They pick up books and they start to say things like “I’ll never be this good,” and it causes writer’s block. That way, if they start to write again, they don’t want to pick up another book out of fear of writer’s block. But it shouldn’t be that way. Not at all. If you start to feel like “I’m not good enough,” start to read even more and study it so you CAN be “good enough.” (Good enough is a different debate, but basically, I think looking at fellow writers’ works as friends is a truly positive outlook that could help many aspiring writers struggling with that “good enough” edge or the ones in competition mode, so they can see it isn’t a competition or about being “good enough,” but about being the best writer you can be.) Thank you for reading and commenting! (And best of luck with your current WIP!)

  13. What a great and true post! I’ve been spinning my wheels in a certain story idea lately (putting a lot of pressure on myself), and realized I needed to step back and savour my reading roots. You know, the type stories that got me to where I am today as reader wanting to add the title of author to her hat. It’s been fun and I’m finding myself again in the words of rereads and my old favorite authors. Your post hit home and reiterated that this is the right step. For me, it’s not just a matter of always keep reading. For me, it’s a matter of reading backward and forward in my reading list. Odd but It’s helping my direction :). Loved this post!

    1. That is a great story! Thank you for sharing it with everyone. 😀 I’ve had a few days where I was REALLY struggling with just the concept of writing, and I did just as you did: I went back to my roots and read my favorite books as a kid. It reminded me of everything that I loved (and still love today). Thank you for reading and commenting.

  14. I can honestly say that reading has sparked the need in me to write, as it happened the other night at the inconvenient hour of 11:00 and I was up until 1:30 with work the next day. I do find it hard to slot in the time to read and am annoyed that I read only around ten or so books last year (if that), but now I throw reading on my day planner along with writing. I’m currently reading four books (two of which are the same books I’ve been reading for around six months, but as they’re a classic and a reference that are extremely heavy, I’m trying not to berate myself too much). I’m trying to just keep the read, review, read more cycle going, because Mr. King is right; writers come from readers. You have to stand on the shoulders of the ones who came before to get any light on your face.

  15. I agree! I also think reading gets the imagination going in different directions. For example, if you are writing X story and read Y book, your story instead of going in the X direction, might go in a G direction. Make any sense? Plus I don’t know of any writer who isn’t a voracious reader. Reading and writing are a passion that go hand in hand. I coached some writers in my day, and I always told them to jump genres. If they were a sci-fi writer, I told them to read a romance novel. That might make for an interesting story!

  16. Totally agree Shannon, i have several on my kindle to read and more on the paperback pile. At the moment in paperback I`m hooked by David Baldacci`s The Finisher and on kindle D.G.Kaye Conflicted Hearts and Charles Edward Yallowitz`s Crossing Bedlam.

  17. In India, where we’re now living, many of the young people don’t seem interested in reading anything but technical books so they can improve their chances of getting a job. Reading just for pleasure seems to be something they’re not interested in. It’s an obsession. I’ve also learned not to loan books because most don’t come back. Sadly, I found out that books from the British Library are free in the U.K. but a there’s a membership charge here. Probably because of the number of books not returned. This is probably because of the lack of good libraries. Anyone getting a book either must tend to keep it or loan it to someone else. I haven’t had many books returned. I don’t loan anymore as I often reread my books. —- Suzanne

  18. I just dont understand how people who write would not want to read. When heavily involved in finishing or editing a project, blogging is the first thing to go for me, not reading or researching. Any writer who does not read is not, and can’t be, a serious writer.

  19. I’ll be presenting this article to my students at Creative Writing Club next week!

    I’ve always loved Ray Bradbury’s take on this: “…separate from the living experiences are all the art experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve learned from other writers, artists, poets, film directors, and composers. So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out.”

    Without reading, you don’t have the “mulch” that you need to really make your ideas grow.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it that much! I hope your writing club can have a great discussion over why reading is essential to writing. Let me know how it goes! (The quote you shared is also priceless.)

  20. I’ve always read books voraciously, but I’m just beginning to realize how important it is to read screenplays too. I have to write a lot of screenplays for my major, and until recently, I didn’t realize how much it handicapped me to not read them on a regular basis.

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