18 Nov 2015

You Are What You Read

Clearly I suck at titling my posts. Bah!

No points for guessing that reading is primarily what will make you a better writer; unless of course, you were born with a vocabulary as vast as the Grand Canyon and an imagination as vivid as the Aurora Borealis.

And no points for guessing how much I love reading. I feel like I end up talking about it in almost every other post. I read almost everything, right down to the labels on products with the manufacturing information. What I cannot bring myself to read, even if my life depends on it, is instruction manuals of any kind. And non-fiction, philosophy type books. And of course, those technical books. I hate all of them with a vengeance.

So I get asked often – what kind of stuff does one read when the goal is to become a better writer. I thought about it, and attempted to give you a very specific answer to that question.

Here are four types of reading material that will make you a better writer:

1) Fiction: Pick a genre first. Do you like grand family dramas? Or historical stories? Or mysteries and suspense? Or sappy romance? Pick what gets your goat and piques your interest and check for the most famous authors in that genre. Then pick two of those authors and start with their latest novels and work backwards till you are bored of them. Move on to the next two.  And so on.

Benefits: If you are interested in the genre, your attention is nailed down. Top authors are top authors for a reason – their stories are good, solid. When you read descriptions of scenes and sentence constructions that are not run-of-the-mill, you will be tempted to apply that to your writing as well. Also, HELLA new words!

Recommendations: Robert Galbraith, Conan Doyle (Mystery, whodunit), Danielle Steele (Family sagas), Rowling, Tolkien (Fantasy) [see how I snuck her in twice? :P]

2) Blogs: No-brainer, this. Saturate your feed reader with as many links of blogs that you can. Ones that have quality content mind you. And ones that are regularly posted on. Also, try and diversify the content – as an Indian reader you will lean toward following more Indian blogs. But broaden that field to include blogs from everywhere. Trawl through international blog directories to begin with, if you don’t know where to start, and build your collection from there.

Benefits: If you broaden your spectrum, you will broaden your perspective. And that is always, always a good thing as perspectives and writing skills are conversely proportional. Also, you will be surprised pleasantly at how many new things you learn about culture and blog design, if you are paying attention.

Recommendations: Raaji, Mikimbizii, Dancing in Black, Hugzilla, and Confused Soul
[Mostly, Indians (as opposed to my ‘preach-ery’, but I promise you they all have different styles)]

3) Short stories: While this can technically be a sub-genre of fiction, I’m making this a separate point because it is especially useful for new readers with short attention spans. Or people who gauge novels and their ‘interestingness’ by the number of pages they have (I don’t understand you guys but I’m going to still be nice and help you out :P). There are a million excellent short stories written by amazing writers like Guy de Maupassant, O. Henry, Roald Dahl, and more recently, Jeffery Archer. Personally, I feel that these authors are better at the craft than novelists as they have fewer words to tell their story with.

Benefits: You will learn to condense what you have to say to fit it into what space you have to work with.

Recommendations: Start with The Murders of Rue Morgue (Poe), Cristina Rosenthal (Archer), Guts (Palahniuk), or the classics, The Gift of the Magi (O. Henry) and The Open Window (Saki) – all different genres, all ones that I immensely enjoyed.

4) Newspapers: While this one doesn’t work for me personally (because my writing style is the opposite side of the spectrum), I still gained some insight into what ways I can structure the information I want to provide. Comb through every last page, read every story. It is a great habit to have/ cultivate; you will be richer in both general knowledge and language. If you are too cool to subscribe to an actual newspaper, download the app of a leading INTERNATIONAL news network and turn on push notifications. You can thank me for this later. Just remember not to fall into the downward spiral of celebrity gossip, that’s not going to do you any good whatsoever. No, don’t click on it even if you are dying to. Not unless you want to waste another 15-minute chunk of your time to the black hole of pointlessness.

Benefits: You will be surprised at how many different ways the same sentence can be written depending on what you want to highlight.

Recommendations: The Hindu (for the language), The BBC network

What helps you write better?


  1. I also used to be the kind that was a stickler for fiction. Any kind, every kind, you name it. I had a deep-seated aversion to non-fiction, be it memoirs, political satires, historical accounts etc. - so much that even should a work of fiction give off that 'non-fiction' vibe, I steered away (especially historical yawns). My preference is still toward fiction, but I think in the last couple years, I have a greater appreciation - and hunger - for certain non-fiction: life writing, philosophical, even essays on literature. I now actually find these things fascinating (I feel critical thinking is such a turn on). Albeit, I totally remember being your age and feeling exactly the way you think, so maybeee this will also be your future - not to make you feel any less unique, of course.

  2. By saying you don't read manuals, you broke my technical writer heart! But if ever you go through them, you will notice how they are written in a particular format and how things are emphasized. It does help in actually putting across things more effectively for readers with short reading spans.

    I love reading fiction and nothing in the world can make me read non-fiction, either! :)


Go on, you can say it.