Want to Become a Better Writer? Do This.

April 27, 2021 / Ron Friedman

Novelist Tom Perrotta has been crafting stories for over thirty years. 

What’s his advice for becoming a great writer? It’s a simple strategy with some fascinating research to back it up.

In many ways, Perrotta’s advice is counterintuitive. It has nothing to do with writing. Instead, he recommends doubling down on reading.

“If you don’t read all the time,” Perrotta has said, “I’m guessing you’re not a writer. And that’s no criticism. That’s a litmus test.”

How does reading make you a better writer? 

Reading fosters learning by example. And immersing yourself in examples prompts skill building in ways we don’t immediately anticipate. 

For one thing, it enables us to absorb the conventions of a field without consciously trying. Studies indicate that simply consuming examples with an underlying structure leads you to detect their patterns, even when you’re not consciously trying to learn a thing. 

It’s a process cognitive psychologists call implicit learning. 

If you’ve ever found yourself captivated by the ingenuity of the first few episodes of a Netflix show, only to be bored by its formulaic predictability at the end of the season, implicit learning is likely to have played a role.

If you’re trying to become a great writer, chances are, you’re wasting your time. 

Let go of the pressure and instead, give yourself permission to read.

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Ron Friedman

Dr. Ron Friedman is a former academic who's fascinated by what it takes to succeed at the highest levels.