We’re all here because we want to publish a book we’ve written and have others pay to read it. Receiving money for entertaining or informing is a gift, and it’s one bestowed to few. If you want to join the ranks, it’s crucial that you develop your craft. How better to do this than by reading? Basketball players don’t improve unless they practice dribbling and free throws. So too can writers not expect to get better except through writing and reading. Reading gives writers powerful tools that improve their work, sometimes in subconscious or sneaky ways. Here are a few ways reading improves writing.
Flow of Language
Writing is both creative and analytical, which is why it’s such a challenge. Understanding the flow of language and its rhythms is what makes writing “good” and what makes you go through it easily. The more you read, especially professionally edited work, the more that flow will get into your mind. When do you stop a paragraph, and when do you start one? When do you make transitions? How do you balance dialogue with narrative? Those questions are answered when you read work that you enjoy and is good. Even grammar questions become second nature the more you read.
So much of writing (including song lyrics) is referential. They borrow and build on work done in the past. How many retellings of fairy tales or classics, like Shakespeare have you seen? In order to reference work, you must first know it. Read widely and varied. See what else has been done. You obviously don’t want to copy it but adding to your knowledge bank is time well spent.
Learn by Reading the Masters
Not every published work is a masterpiece. However, in general, published books have been screened to some degree for quality. That might have come from a publisher, or it could be reviews from other readers if it’s self-published. These novels will have had an editor and other feedback before you read them, so they are polished to high a finish. In other words, they’re likely to be something worth emulating. You might not cotton to every style or genre, and that’s okay. It’s useful to read in the category you wish to write in, so you know what’s out there. Again, star basketball players watch basketball, so they can be inspired. Why not do the same?
Reading well-told stories also helps you get a technical sense of how writers are crafting story. For instance, reading more has given me a much more conscious, analytical concept of storytelling. I’m now able to identify the turning point, catalyst, midpoint, crisis, darkest moment, etc, in other books and movies I watch. I can tell that they’re hitting their mark at the right time, and the story is flowing because they’re doing it right. It’s helped me improve the structure of my own writing. The same thing goes for narration versus dialogue, and other more technical parts of storytelling.
The bottom line is, if you don’t love reading, you’re missing a crucial part of improving your writing. Reading inspires, teaches, sparks creativity, shows you how it’s done, and helps with the technical side of your craft. Think you don’t have time? Try audio books while you do chores or other mundane activities. Keep a paperback in your purse or car. Sneak it in as much as possible. You won’t regret it, and you’ll probably have fun too!