More Reading for Better Writing
If you want to develop better writing habits, you’ll have to do more than just write.
There are lots of things you can do to improve your writing. You can join a writing community, work on your grammar skills, collect writing resources, and keep lists of useful writing tips and ideas.
Put all these things in your writer’s toolbox and you’ll be in good shape. But it will all be for naught if you don’t ever take the time to read.
Reading is the single most important activity that leads to better writing. In fact, it’s just as crucial as actually writing. So, let’s talk about why it’s essential for writers to read as much as possible.
I have to wear glasses when I’m reading or working at the computer. My eyes are shot and the reason for that is because I’ve worn them out on books. That’s right, I read so much that I actually damaged my eyes. As a child, I used to read by poor light if necessary. I was supposed to be sleeping, but as a lifelong insomniac, I opted to read by a dull night light instead of heading off to dreamland.
A friend of mine recently told me that she believes adult writers who were childhood readers have acquired a natural talent for word craft. She went on to explain that she didn’t read much as a kid; her love of writing drove her to read more as an adult, and she feels she has to work harder at writing than her writer friends who grew up with their noses buried in books. Makes sense to me, but then again, I was one of those reading kids.
The human brain is like a sponge. We soak up everything that we observe and experience throughout our lives, and each thing we are exposed to becomes part of the very fiber of our beings. What we read is no exception. You may not be able to recite the Mother Goose nursery rhymes you read as a child, but they’re still somewhere in that head of yours. When you hear Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, that little voice inside your head will tell you that Jack jumped over a candlestick. It’s embedded in your brain.
By reading a lot, you will develop a familiarity with language. Your vocabulary will expand and turns of phrase will wedge themselves into your memory. Even grammar sinks in. Forget memorizing all the rules, just read writers who are grammatically adept. Eventually, it all will become part of your mental makeup.
If you know exactly what kind of writer you want to be, you’re in luck. Your best bet is to read a lot within your favorite genre. Find authors that resonate with your sensibility and read all their books. Notice that each writer has a distinct voice, one that makes their work recognizable. If you read enough of one author’s work, you’ll probably be able to pick them out of a quotation lineup (I had to take that test in college).
At the same time, you don’t want to rope yourself off from experiencing a wide range of styles. You might like high literature and want to pen the next Pulitzer-Prize winning work of fiction. You should read the classics, of course, but don’t completely avoid the bestsellers. There’s a mentality among some writers that you should only read that which you want to write. It’s hogwash. Reading outside your chosen area of specialty will diversify and expand your skills, and you’ll be equipped to bring new techniques and methods into your craft. If you so choose, you’ll even be able to walk, or perhaps cross, genre lines.
It’s also hugely beneficial for all writers to read (and write) poetry. Poetry is a sure way to develop a killer vocabulary, the ability to formulate vivid imagery, and infuse other types of writing with creativity. I know, some writers don’t love poetry, but I have to pitch my passion, right?
Read and Write, Read and Write, Repeat
Reading also makes for invigorating conversation. You can join a book club or visit Booking Through Thursday, a website where you share your reading adventures with other passionate book lovers.
Do you ever read for the sole purpose of improving your writing? I usually just poke around for reading material that interests me. I try to read a little bit of everything from fiction to nonfiction to poetry. I like to open my mind and let it all sink in.
What are you reading these days?
Which habits and practices have helped you in your pursuit of better writing? Do you have any stories to tell about how reading has improved your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.