The One Key Component To Good Writing (It’s Not What You Think)

Has there ever been a great writer who wasn’t a great reader? That’s like asking if there has ever been a great baseball player who has never watched baseball. It’s almost a nonsense question.

But, unlike baseball, there are numerous people who seek to compose works without having read deeply and widely. Not everyone watches or plays baseball, but language is common to everyone. We all communicate via the spoken and written word, therefore people feel they can write. And in the most basic sense of writing (group of words makes up a sentence, group of sentences make up a paragraph, top to bottom, left to right) that’s true.

But good writing is a product of good thinking. Good thinking is a product of good reading. Good writing is a product of good craftsmanship. And order to write well OR think well one must read well.

So I ask you these three questions, writers (and humans with brains):

What are you reading?

That is, what is its quality and its message? Is it worth absorbing both artistically and intellectually? There is some small value in reading bad books for the sake of knowing what makes books bad. There is some small value in reading books purely for mindless entertainment. But these should be treated like candy, not the majority of your caloric intake.

How widely are you reading?

Are you being influenced by geniuses of different ilks, fiction and non-fiction, men and women, philosopher and theologian, story teller and reporter? Are you hearing from those with whom you are inclined to agree and those you aren’t? Are you learning about people from different backgrounds and cultures? In short, are you dipping in to the lives of those whose lives you could never otherwise interact with? Variety truly is the spice of writing, the flavor that makes it palatable.

How much are you reading?

Do you have a steady influx of the written word to refresh you, enlighten you, and hone you? Maybe it’s fifteen minutes a day. Maybe it’s thirty or fifty or one hundred books a year. What’s good for the body is good for the mind, so measure your books like you measure your exercise. Do it regularly, mark your progress, measure your steps. It will make you a more fit writer, or rather a human more fit to write.

If you aspire to write get to reading. Do it often. Do it widely. Do it creatively and deeply. Read what you love and dabble in books you hate too. It all serves your writing.