To Write, You Need to Read

It should not be a controversial hot take, but somehow it is. To write, you need to read. To write well, read broadly. Every Famous Author™ gives this piece of advice. Yet I meet “aspiring writers” that don’t think it’s true. They’ve never completed a manuscript, let alone submitted or published one, but they know better than the collected wisdom of hundreds of career professionals in the field.

So today’s developer journal is all about why you need to devour books prolifically if you’re serious about being a writer.

See How Other People Use Language

I tend to write the way I speak. There’s a time and a place for that, but on the whole, it drives my editors crazy. It isn’t appropriate for technical writing, and a lot of TTRPG writing is technical writing. 

The way I speak is the result of my environment. My vocabulary stems from what I know. It’s rooted in the colloquialisms from the town where I grew up. It reflects the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve spent time around. 

Reading books with a range of voices expands my voice. It allows me to adapt. In Finland, I couldn’t use some American slang because people didn’t always have the context to understand what I meant. I can’t use Finnish slang with more than two people here in Delaware. There are generational word choices, things only older people use, terms the younger people have recently adopted. 

These reasons are the tip of the iceberg. I could go on about learning new words, finding creative ways to break the rules of grammar, and finding the poetry of language. Just know that the more you read, the better you can write in other voices. That helps with both technical writing and character dialogue. If you want to freelance, it helps to be able to mimic other writers too.

Learn What Already Exists

When I was in high school, I began writing science fiction short stories. Most of my inevitable rejections were form letters, but one editor took the time to include a handwritten note at the bottom. It said, “You haven’t read enough science fiction to write science fiction.”

I was offended. The first science fiction writers didn’t have a deep well of work to draw on. It’s all based on imagination anyway, so what use was it reading what other people had written? I took it as a rejection of my ideas, and therefore a rejection of me!

It took a while for me to understand what that editor was saying. I learned that other writers had already used situations in my early stories. Those stories had already been told, and told better, by well-known writers in the field. I only learned this by reading more. It was an embarrassing realization.

Yes, you have a unique voice. There is nothing new under the sun. Your expression of an idea will not be the same as someone else’s. All of that is valid. Doesn’t it behoove you, though, to find out how other people have used the same idea? Success comes from striving to do something a little different. Find the twist not seen before. To do that, you need to know the field.

To Write, You Need to Read

If you’re going to write tabletop roleplaying games, get to reading. Read beyond your favorite system and everything officially published for it. Absorb every game you can get your hands on. Become familiar with seminal works in the genre you want to work with; dive into fiction, history books, and biographies. Get ahold of instruction manuals and how-to books to see how to explain things step-by-step in a clear, concise manner. All of those will make your writing better.