“Read” seems like obvious advice to give writers, but I am surprised (is appalled too strong a word?) at how many individuals who claim they want to write say they do not read.
Reading is muscle-building.
We don’t expect a bodybuilder to win, or even to enter, a competition without going to the workout room daily. For correlations in the arts, we don’t expect a ballet dancer to become the prima ballerina without having watched and emulated the ballerinas who came before her, and we don’t expect painters and sculptors to create works of art without intensive study of the masters.
So how can we expect to be good writers if we do not read?
Here are just a few of the benefits writers gain from reading.
- Everything a writer mentally consumes becomes fodder for their writing. Reading breeds ideas by triggering memories and conjuring our imagination.
Motivation to engage in the physical act of writing, that is, putting our butts in our chairs.
- We read something and say, “Well, I can do that,” and then we sit and write. Or we read something else and say, “Well, I can do better than that,” and then we sit and write. Or we read a masterpiece and say, “Oh, I really want to do that,” and then we sit and write.
Expert knowledge of our genre.
- Whether you write for magazines, are working on a sci-fi or historical novel, are creating short stories, or are writing a self-help book—whatever your market or genre—there are certain expectations for each. Reading can educate us about both the craft requirements and the business aspects of it.
To absorb language, improve vocabulary, and to witness how writing is done well (and not so well).
- When an author looks at how other writers use the language, which words they pick, how they position the words and flow the phrases, and then experiments with them herself, she eventually finds her own voice and style.
- This may sound the same as the reason above, but rather, this is deliberate reading about the craft of writing. Many great books are available on both fiction and nonfiction writing. James Scott Bell has several exceptional books on craft for fiction authors, and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well is the definitive guide on nonfiction. These are just a couple that come to mind; there are many others (perhaps a topic for another post).
- Or, in a more positive light, as recreation, a sometimes needed, necessary break from the efforts of writing.
Those of you taking in this article likely don’t need much excuse to read and probably have far more reasons of your own for doing it. I’d love for you to share them in the comments below, specifically addressing how reading informs your writing. If you’d like to offer a suggestion for a book on craft, that would be lovely too!
Feel free to email me anytime with topic ideas for this weekly tip or a suggestion for a guest to be on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, our free monthly Author Education Series. You can reach me by going to the “Contact” button near the top of this page.
Now, go write!
Gina Hogan Edwards, Editor, Author, Creativity Coach