Should you be reading or writing more?

If you want to become a better writer, the equation is simple:

Reading + Writing = Better Writing

Filling in the variables, however, is not.

In a Facebook group that I’m a member of, someone recently asked other group members about their own reading and writing habits. This member expressed anxiety because he feels like he’s always having to choose between the two. Others were quick to commiserate with him in the comments section, and one woman summed it up nicely:

I think being a writer entails worrying constantly (or at least very often) whether you’re reading or writing enough, and the answer is always: no, you’re not doing enough of either, but simultaneously yes, you’re doing an adequate amount of both, because: life and process = complicated as well as unfixed insofar as what is needed for individual progress and forward momentum. 

Really, there is no right answer. There is no fixed set of variables to get to this conceptual 10. Sometimes 4 + 6 will get you there; other times it will be 5 + 5.

When finding your variables, it will depend on what your current goals and focus are. If you’re in the middle of authoring a story or working on a book, then focus your time on writing. Conversely, if no large projects stand in your way, perhaps reading more often than usual is best. Doing so may even inspire a new project.

Writing is a skill, which means to become a better writer you do need to practice. However, it’s easy for your writing to get dull over time. That’s when reading comes in. By reading you can:

  • find inspiration
  • increase your knowledge
  • better understand your genre
  • expand your vocabulary
  • indirectly learn from other writers

Don’t stress, though, if it’s been a while since you last read a book or novel. Know that even reading shorter works — such as feature stories, newspaper articles and even reputable blogs — can yield these same benefits.

Above all, remember that whether you write for a living or write on the side, life gets in the way. When it does, adjust your variables and know that by simply caring about improving your writing, you’re likely doing much more than others who don’t practice their craft. Plus, even if life is messing up your equation, your personal experiences can inform your writing as well!

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