Avid readers write better than non-readers.
A common desire among writers is to hone their craft and write better. There can’t be a better way to polish your skills than to see how other writers communicate ideas and learn from them.
Avid readers read all kinds of things—books of different genres, blogs, articles, cooking instructions on the back of packages—anything and everything. For them, it happens on autopilot. They can’t help but zero in on words.
Here’s how extensive reading helps you hone your writing skills:
1. It Builds Your Vocabulary
This is one of the most important reasons you should read. Most people recommend noting down words you don’t understand, looking up their meanings in the dictionary and then to use them in your conversations or writing.
Frankly, I have always found the idea a colossal bore. It is tiring to begin with! If you can use it, kudos to you! You’re a more industrious person than I ever was! I polished my vocabulary through volume. The more I read, the more nuances I gather of a word through the context in which it was used. There was a time in my formative years, when I read nearly two dozen novels every month—while attending school and all that. This went on until I got my first job.
One would have to be pretty slow not to acquire a decent vocabulary after that lot!
When you experience good writing, you consciously or subconsciously add words, phrases, similes and metaphors to your arsenal. This makes a huge difference to your writing style and helps you write in a clear and concise manner.
It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.
~ Oscar Wilde
2. Helps You To Meet a Reader’s Expectations Better
When you are wearing a reader’s shoes, you experience a story as a reader would. You would know what delights a reader and what they find a drag. Well-written books set the bar and define a framework for you. You want to create the same delight in your reader that you have experienced.
You learn how to build-up to the climax, which scenes need the protagonist’s monologue or flashbacks. How well do you justify the choices and behaviour of the protagonists when a love triangle ends? Will killing your ‘Jon Snow’ of the story the best move? Reading different genres and different styles of writing help you decide your likes and dislikes while developing your own writing style. It helps you learn how to communicate subtle sarcasm or deep grief. You learn how to show and not to tell.
Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.
~ William Faulkner
3. Shows You How to Plot
Your story needs to make sense. The thrill, the conflict of lovers or the grand hero who rescues in the nick of time—all the twists need to be planned just right to come as close to perfection as possible. What better way to learn this imperative writing skill than by reading someone else’s soul-fulfilling work? Reading helps you plot and structure your own story immaculately. After all, can a writer read an exquisitely crafted Jeffery Archer story and not make mental notes on how to deliver a twist the reader never saw coming?
4. Inspires Creativity
Reading is undoubtedly one of the best ways to come up with ideas for your idea bank. When you read, you get transported to another world. This experience opens you up to endless possibilities! You discover your love for a new genre you never thought you would attempt or maybe a inspire you to re-write the ending of your ongoing novel with a juicy twist!
Think before you speak. Read before you think.
~ Fran Lebowitz
5. Helps You Create Robust Characters
Memorable stories are those with enticing characters. Some writers do an impeccable job of creating memorable characters. The underdog you root for; the imperfectly-perfect hero that you grieve and celebrate with! It doesn’t matter if your story is excellent but the reader cannot connect with your character. Writing a dull and boring character is blasphemy, it sucks out the joy of reading. Reading shall thus inspire you to punch in just the amount of detail and a pinch of love to create a soul-satisfying read. There are many people who believe that Sherlock Holmes—the super sleuth—was a real person, so vivid and lifelike was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characterization!
Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.
~ Paul Auster
What should you read so that you write better?
This is a rather debated topic. Some say that since reading influences you as a writer, you should be very particular about what you read. The words that find a home in your subconscious are bound to find their way into your writing. People say you should not restrict yourself to reading the high-browed classics, the only mark of quality, as it may seem like a chore. After all, writers read not only to improve their style and vocabulary but also for entertainment and inspiration.
I believe you should read everything; classics, contemporary novels—everything! Thanks to the Internet, blogs and articles online also make a great source of knowledge and information on various subjects. One could even read books on how to write better! The authors of such books are passionate and well-accomplished in the craft of writing and hence their tips and tricks can prove invaluable.
How will you find time to read?
Think of reading as eating. Just as you must find time to eat or your body will shut down, so must you find time to read or your writing brain will shut down. Reading material is to your writing mind as food is to your body and joy to your soul. It is vital.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
~ Stephen King
Read on your commute to work if you use public transport (not while driving, for obvious reasons). Dump that newspaper and read for half an hour in the morning or just before sleeping or while running on the treadmill! You just have to find the time whenever you can. Go for audiobooks you can play on your car stereo as you drive, cook or go for your morning walk. Honestly, you really don’t have an excuse—not in this tech-enabled world. Yes, tough luck!
How many books do you read or plan to read in a month? Any creative tips on how to manage time for reading? Let us know in the comments below!