It's something we've all heard many times before, 'If you want to be a great writer, you need to be a great reader.' We're advised to read whenever and whatever we can, and there are plenty of guides to help you up your reader's word count, but it's not always clear why
we should be doing so. Well in this editorial, WritersInk
will be providing some answers.
Let us not forget that reading should be an enjoyable experience, and that can be considered reason alone to pick up a book (or click on a literature deviation), but for the aspiring writer there are a few more benefits to consider.
“We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read.” -- Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the EarthInspiration
Reading is an inspirational experience. A good story or a well-told poem is satisfying to read in of itself, that's why we started writing them in the first place. By delving a little deeper we can draw upon two kinds of inspiration associated with reading literature.
The first is inspiration of ideas, which is all of the new thoughts and possibilities that begin to spring up when you're reading. Sometimes it's the entire setting or lead characters that provoke you to write something similar. This is when you read that epic fantasy novel and want to begin your own version of Middle Earth. Sometimes it's smaller than that though, even a throwaway line can catch hold and spark an idea that might fit a new piece of work or slot into what you're already writing. Don't feel ashamed to embrace these flashes of inspiration - there's nothing shameful about it. Your writing will inspire other people, why not let yourself be inspired by them?
The second kind
of inspiration is in literature itself, to be reminded about how powerful the written word can be and to strive towards that excellence. This is frightfully important, because without it we're sure to lose sight of why we began writing in the first place. Stuck running over the same old ground in the story or poem you're working on? Is the idea of finishing your piece becoming a stressful burden? Take a break and read. Remember what made you want
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” -- George R.R. Martin, A Dance With DragonsNew styles, new language
Reading is a good way to learn new styles, techniques, and vocabulary. There's no way you're going to come up with every style and literary technique by yourself, so the best way to discover them is to read literature from different authors, different genres. We're all constantly learning in nearly everything we do, but when it comes to literature we can at least be enjoying a good story while we do it.
Certain styles of writing are much more common in one genre than others, but that doesn't mean they're not applicable elsewhere. Struggling to build a deeper relationship between two characters? Time to read some romance. Want to use some vivid imagery? Poetry is the way to go. Worried that your poetry tends to sprawl and lose focus? Go see how the fixed form poets do it. Learn from the writers that do it best.
New language and techniques are the same kind of deal: it's all about exposure. It's worth noting that when reading, you've often got time to look into the words being used and how they're strung together. Reading with a dictionary to hand helps no end, and if you can survive the distractions the internet is another valuable tool.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” -- Charles William EliotCritical consideration
Reading helps us to write better. Just be sure to ask yourself 'why?' Why
did you like that paragraph? Why
didn't you? Why
did that stanza invoke such strong imagery? Why
did you feel sympathy, or anger, or anything at all. By looking a little bit beyond just the words on the page it's possible to get much more out of them.
To look at it another way, if all you're doing is reading the words one by one are you really reading much at all? If you go through an entire story thinking 'I like the protagonist' without being able to answer the simple question, 'Why do you like the protagonist?' perhaps you've missed something.
It's not always easy to do, and sometimes what you're reading will almost demand that you simply sit back and let it wash over you, but it is a chance to add more to the experience whilst picking up skills that can be employed when you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) later.
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” -- Stephen KingThe circle of
Reading encourages reading. If you don't read what other people have written, how can you expect anyone else to read what you write? It's a contentious issue, granted, and only really applies to sites like deviantART rather than commercial literature (which you certainly should read). However, it's not by accident that people who make themselves known in a community by offering comments and feedback usually receive such things themselves.
Let's remember what was said at the beginning: reading is supposed to be enjoyable. Reading as a marketing ploy is the wrong way to approach things, but if you're going to be reading anyway, especially if you're taking the time to approach the work critically, then leaving your thoughts can be an encouragement for other authors to do the same for you. And if someone has written a piece of literature you find in some way inspiring, don't you think they deserve to know?Conclusion
Let's not pretend that writing isn't important, but reading certainly helps. If you're unsatisfied with what you're writing (or struggling to write at all, or just find yourself writing the same things) try reading some more. Pick out any ideas or techniques that you liked (and try to work out why you liked them) and see if they can be used to inspire new writing. And whilst you're taking the time to consider someone else's work, why not leave them some feedback?