Is reading really important to good writing? (With a little #TBT thrown in)
My goal for this year has been to finish all of the half-finished books on my nightstand before I start any new ones. It’s not that they’re horrible books, and I’ve entirely lost interest (though I do feel guilty, for unexplained reasons, for not finishing a book—it feels like a failure or an unfinished project).
The real problem is that there are just so many books I want to read. Sometimes, I get a little antsy that I won’t be able to read them all—though if I could be really honest with myself I’d admit that, even if I lived to 110 and never worked (including writing), I’d never read my entire book collection. That doesn’t stop me from trying, though.
Staring at the stack of five books currently on my nightstand, my mind is brought around again to a thought I’ve been mulling over regarding writing: prolific reading is essential to prolific writing, and more importantly, to good writing.
This isn’t a new idea. Every educator from kindergarten through college understands the intrinsic link between reading and writing. Young learners must read and be read to in order to begin to understand conventions of print, phonics, and the synthesis of those two. Older writers must read as they begin to appreciate the richness of language, its use of figurative language, and the nuances in modes used for differing communication purposes.
Writers, too, must read in order to write—not to learn about phonics or simple comparisons—but maybe their more sophisticated cousins: to appreciate the sound of language and how it can enhance meaning or to revel in the masterful use of imagery or symbolism.
Reading gives us the opportunity, not only to get lost in a story, but to wonder what the author did to take us there.
So, read, read, read. And study and reflect. Underline passages that call out to you. Put a post-it note on the page to come back to it later. Try an exercise in imitation of your favorite author’s style to see what you can learn.
Play with words. Allow yourself to approach reading as a writer. Once you see that they are the inverse of one another, you will start to be able to immerse yourself in what reading has to teach you.
I’m having a great time brainstorming ways to turn my reading into a learning experience for writing, but I’ve got to go; there’s a stack of books on the night stand calling my name.
But I’m curious, how do you use others’ writing to inspire your own?
I can’t think of any writer who has inspired my own off the top of my head. My ideas are much more inspired by events, places, objects, scenery, interesting and fascinating architecture, old buildings and antiques, animals, being in the woods and living farm life. The other day I visited Fort Ticonderoga. My gears are turning now, especially after seeing the swords and muskets and watching the daily cannon firing. I used to get ideas simply by talking to anyone who was born before the Great Depression.
I think that reading will always be incredibly important to become a writer. If you can’t appreciate the beauty of the written word, how can you produce it? I’ve found it really helpful to break down the plot devices in the books that I love to see if that kind of style can be used with any of my own work. Was there a really fantastic opening that grabbed me right off the bat? Why was it so good? How can I apply that? What about the character development? Which characters did I feel closest to and why? How can I develop my characters in a way that my readers would also feel connected to them?
I also liked Ty’s comment about how we’re inspired by all of the things around us. Sometimes you take inspiration from a book, sometimes it’s a moment during your day, a trip, a setting, or even a subway ride. I think that as writers, it’s important to see every single thing that you do as an opportunity to learn something new, to get inspiration for our new story, article, or novel. Stephen Russell Payne had great advice about this on the Writing Gym Podcast. He talked about the necessity for a writer to distract themselves. Authors constantly have stories brewing in their minds, but writer’s block still pops up and confounds us all. So, there is an importance in reading a book, taking a walk, drawing inspiration from the world around you in new ways. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to spark a brand new direction.
This is GREAT ADVICE! Careful study of the work of masters is the only way to become a better writer. After all, that’s how artists learn to paint or sculpt. It’s also how composers learn to create music. They analyse and imitate. I’m writing a series of writing guides based on that principle.