Man a typewriter

To Read or to Write: That is the Question

Writing Tips #11 in the Series

Close last year’s Writers of the Future anthology, put the book down for a few, and write. But… But… you need to study the past winners to see what wins the contest, right?

All writers have heard it at one point of another. To write well, first comes being well-read. However, with so many hours a day drained to work, compulsively checking social media, and socializing, sometimes the choice comes down to having only time for one of the two. To read or write? That is the question.

There is no question that reading stimulates the imagination and helps generate ideas for writing. Additionally, once a writer starts reading critically, they start to discern the difference between good writing and bad writing.

Counter-intuitively, quality writing can be more difficult to find with internet access. People can indiscriminately splash their opinions and stories across the web without the review of a beta reader much less an editor. The quality and accuracy of our language and its style has suffered because of this.

So when does reading help? Find quality. Try magazines and websites being published by the companies you wish to submit to. Without reading a story from Clarkesworld, how are you going to know what themes their editors like, what has been done, what styles tend to get published in the zine, and the topics they typically do or don’t gravitate towards? Does that market have no problem showcasing violence, but steers clear of cursing? Is it a market that says yes to gratuitous sex scenes but bringing up religious controversy is a no-no?

When planning on selling a story, think like a salesperson. Who is the reading demographic? What do they want? Does the story provide something that is a good fit for them?

Brad R. Torgersen, who won a spot in Volume 26 of “Writers of the Future” for his novelette “Exanastasis,” advises that to win, you must read. “Please read recent volumes of the contest anthology. I’d recommend vol. XX through XXV, if you can get them on-line or at your local Big Brick store. My first three entries were all Honorable Mention, but I didn’t crack Finalist until I’d begun purchasing and reading the anthology.”

So apart from reading towards the markets you wish to sell too, what do you read? It depends on the kind of reader/writer you are. Some people enjoy reading classics and suggestions others insist they ‘must read!’ to complete a checklist. Try and ferret out the books that makes your heart beat faster and quicken your blood.

Above all. Write first. Read second. The only true way to be a better writer is by actually writing, no matter how well read you are. So try and develop that critical eye, read books that excite and stimulate you, and maybe pick up a classic book every once in a while to feel accomplished.


Peter Wacks

Peter Wacks

Guest blogger Peter J. Wacks is a bestselling cross-genre writer. He has worked across the creative fields in gaming, television, film, comics, and most recently, when not busy editing, he spends his time writing novels and there are over 3.5 million copies of his stories in circulation.

Holly Roberds

Holly Roberds

Co-author Holly Roberds wrote a science fiction/romance trilogy before being told to scrap the lot of it. Since then, she has hunted for all information about the craft of writing, honing and evolving her skills. Roberds is currently applying all hard-won knowledge to rewriting her novels, and getting her short stories published. She is also a professional freelance article/blog writer, singer/songwriter, and never has less than five jobs at one time.