What does it mean to “read widely”?

Woman sitting on a floor covered with open books, holding a black coffee and reading a book, tracing words with her finger.

By Allison Tait.

If you are searching for writing tips, it doesn’t take long to discover that one of the (if not THE) top tips offered over and over is this one:

“Read!”

It makes sense, if you consider writing to be a “words in = words out” equation. The more you read, the more you take in not only words (and therefore a wider vocabulary), but, almost by osmosis the conventions of story structure, pacing, the expectations of various genres, ideas and more.

But that first tip, is often followed quickly by another:

“Read Widely!”

It floats from the lips of writers of all kinds like a mantra, but what does it mean?

Does it mean that if you plan to write crime fiction you should read as many crime novels as you can?

That if you want to read literary fiction, you should journey through that section of your local bookshop or library?

That if you want to write for children, you should immerse yourself in picture books or middle-grade novels?

Well, yes. Reading a diverse range of authors within your chosen creative learning is an essential part of learning to write in that area. Learning what you love about available books and what you don’t love about them helps to guide your own writing.

But if you were to stop only at your chosen genre, in the area you love, you would be cutting off the opportunity to learn new techniques, find new inspiration and develop your writing in ways you cannot yet imagine.

Reading widely means taking yourself out of your comfort zone and into new territory. It means reading poetry, non-fiction, romance novels, fantasy novels, speeches, literary fiction, children’s fiction, short stories, novellas, memoir, biography, and more.

Expose yourself to new writing styles and craft skills. Discover tiny facts hidden in historical narratives that might spark an entirely new story for you. Allow yourself to drift into the epic stories that fantasy writers create and learn how they use tiny details to build their worlds.

Woman reading a book on the grass in a park, with a quote about reading widely and getting out of your comfort zone.

“Listen widely!”

When I was co-hosting the So you want to be a writer podcast with the inimitable Valerie Khoo, we argued regularly over the benefits of chocolate versus banoffee, but one thing we always agreed upon was that we learnt something from every single writer we interviewed.

We may not have been writing military history, but we learnt about the skill required to present the truth of a man’s life even as you were responsible for his legacy.

We may not have been writing romance novels, but we learnt how to bring the emotional tension forward in a scene, even if the scene itself looked “everyday”.

We may not have been writing literary fiction, but we learnt about the process of drafting a novel until every word was taut and precise.

Recent interviews conducted by Valerie include a crime novelist, a children’s author, a memoirist, a non-fiction author, a writer of commercial fiction and more.

So, even if you’re struggling to find the time to “read widely” as advocated by other authors, take the time to listen to those authors talk about their processes and their craft, even if you think you’ll never write a YA novel/sci-fi novel/memoir in your life.

(The beautiful thing about podcasts is that they are complementary to the most mundane chores of everyday life – folding the clothes, walking the dog, weeding the garden.)

Who knows what you’ll learn to bring to your own writing!


Author bio

Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently working on a new manuscript and taking nominations for the dedication. Find out more about her at allisontait.com

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