It’s been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who doesn’t read is that all your ideas are new and original; that everything you write is an extension of yourself rather than a mixture of you and other authors.
No offense to whoever said that, but it is utter piffle.
Piffle: A word I picked up while reading.
If there’s one thing I truly believe when it comes to being an author, it’s that readers undeniably make better writers. I literally can’t think of one great author who wasn’t at some time inspired or influenced by someone else’s writing, nor can I imagine a scenario where reading books wouldn’t benefit an aspiring writer—or any writer, for that matter.
I get it, though. In today’s world where everyone wants to be authentic and unique, and where instant gratification seems to be the modus operandi for many, this advice to skip reading can sound pretty appealing. But be very careful. Unique work doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good work.
By no means am I saying that ripping off someone’s writing is okay. What I’m saying is that reading actually facilitates one’s ability to create unique, extraordinary, masterful works of literary art.
1) Reading Greatly Expands Vocabulary
Reading is arguably the best way to grow your vocabulary because it exposes you to new words and expression—some you’ve never heard before, and some you have but perhaps never in context. Superior language skills set you apart from others and give you the ability to express your own ideas in so many different ways. Words are like colors; the more you have, the more creative you can be with them.
2) Reading Exposes Us To Better Writing Than Our Own
Set your ego aside, young grasshopper. Learn from the masters.
There’s a LOT of fantastic work and great talent out there, and exposing yourself to it will only make you a better writer. Enjoying and appreciating someone else’s writing is a great way to guide you in crafting a book others will love as well.
3) Reading Allows Us To Experience Things We Would Otherwise Never Experience
A book can send you twenty thousand leagues under the sea, or through a magical brick wall into a world of witches and wizards, or on a mission to save the world from a terrible virus that is threatening to wipe out humankind. You can be anyone or anything at anytime, past, present or future.
Books are magical things that allow you to experience things you’d never get to experience in real life. These experiences spark the imagination, producing new ideas and giving writers so much more to work with.
Even if you’re not into fiction, reading nonfiction can still make you a better writer. It introduces you to other people’s thoughts and experiences. This can help you see things from different perspectives, educate you on topics that interest you, provide fodder for more enlightened discussions within your chosen topic, and initiate new ideas that give your subject more profound meaning. Not only does it make your work more authentic, it also adds credibility to your writing.
4) Reading Helps Shape Our Writing Voice and Style
When I was in high school, one of my teachers was able to pick out which elementary school I had gone to based solely on the way I pronounced a fellow student’s name. As she put it:
She was right. I had never noticed the accent before, nor had I picked up on the fact that only kids from that elementary school pronounced names like that. Neat.
In a sense, no one really has an “original” voice. The way we speak is a product of our environment. Without realizing it, we mimic our parents, friends, teachers, colleagues, even celebrities. Our speech is simply a collection of other people’s expressions, pitch patterns and accents which we’ve picked up over the course of our lives.
Reading has the same sort of influence on our writing. It gives writers more diversity, more tone, more edge. The more books you read from different authors — even within the same genre — the more it will help you cultivate and fine-tune your own writing voice and style. You won’t sound exactly like one or the other, but rather a combination of many which ends up becoming a voice that is unique to you, and you alone.
5) Reading Cures Writer’s Block
This theory has proven true for me time and time again. Whenever I hit a wall in my writing, the first thing I do now is turn to my all-time favorite books for inspiration AND/OR commit to reading a new book for something fresh. It’s curious how indulging in someone else’s writing can truly spark the life back into your own, but trust me, IT WORKS.
For one, it gives the writing part of your brain a break, allowing it time to rest and recharge. Secondly, reading triggers new thoughts, sparks the imagination, and reignites the passion that makes writing so fun!
I often keep my laptop near me while reading. Anytime a sentence or description jumps out at me, I jot it down. Sometimes it’s just one word, like piffle. It can be anything useful that might fit into my story, or conveys a thought or feeling I might want to use. Then I workshop these notes and wazzle-dazzle them into my own words. The end result is always totally different then where it started, and now I have a bunch of new material for my book.
There are so many wonderful reasons to read. These were just my top five.
If you don’t know where to start, try Googling the Top 10 Best Sellers in the genre you want to write. Ask friends for suggestions. Go to your local library and find out what’s popular. Pick up a classic, or go back to something you read in high school and enjoyed. Join a book club, Goodreads or Litsy. There are no wrong choices. The important thing is that you get started.
Once you do, you’ll never regret it.
Readers, what are your favorite books? What’s your favorite genre and why? If you could recommend just one book to someone, which would it be? Leave a comment!
I wrote this post as part of the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group #IWSG Blog Hop. To continue hopping through to other great blogs (and I highly recommend you do) or to join as a fellow writer, click here.