Good readers are good writers. Everyone knows that. But why? Plenty of people read who never write, so how does picking up more books help build your creative muscles to create your own work of fiction?
Practice Makes Perfect
Writing is communication. Every novel, every article, and every flash fiction represent conversations you have with the reader. This means the art of conversation applies to your writing, even if you’re composing alone in the attic of a remote cabin accessible only by helicopter and dog sleds. The key, of course, to any art lies in practice. That’s why you journal (you do, right?) and force yourself to finish first drafts you absolutely cannot stand.
Reading teaches you to speak through the written word with greater clarity and impact. You learn how to converse mentally as a reader before you learn to begin the conversation as a writer. Think of reading as speaking. Giving up reading would be like giving up speaking after you’ve won a debate. Why would you?
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Ultimately, we don’t know. Great ideas assemble piece by piece in the back of your mind, built by raw materials scavenged from personal experience, private pursuits, and other stories. Where do you find other stories? Well, you’ll find them everywhere: television, radio, movies, art collections, etc. However, you’ll stumble across an awful lot of ideas whenever you open a book.
You can’t predict what will jump out at you and glom onto a half-conceived character, bringing them to life in your head. Maybe it will be a surprising contrast, a snippet of dialogue, or a sudden bloom of understanding as the novel you’re reading takes an unexpected turn. Getting ideas is about much more than wanting to write a fantasy book because you enjoy reading fantasy books. Your imagination is the field where your ideas grow, and you need to fertilize it as often as possible.
The best way to develop your voice is to write. So far, so obvious. That said, just like new ideas, you need to pick up new techniques from other authors. There’s the question of punctuation. How do you feel about semicolons – or hyphens? Do you write in short, energetic sentences, or do you add shorter bits to frame long, winding descriptions?
Technique goes beyond right and wrong. Many authors intentionally use sentence fragments to elicit a modern tone, raise tension, or underscore a particular thought. On the other hand, many writers prefer traditional , hard-line grammar rules. Read lots of stories from a variety of authors and analyze not only the scenes they build and the characters they share, but also how they use language.
Stoking Your Passion
Writing is an act of love, and sometimes that love really does become a labor when you’re in the middle of editing. Just because it’s love doesn’t mean it’s always fun. Reading reminds you why you’re pulling those late nights and screaming at unwieldy sentence structure when you could be doing something – anything – else. Reading lends fuel to the fire of your creativity, and that is something all authors always need.
Books are food, air, and light for writers. It doesn’t matter how many works you publish, or how new you are to the fold. Read more books. They are the best teachers a writer could ask for.