Writers never quit learning.
We all have something else to learn, a new story that will challenge us, a technique we never quite figured out. We’re all learning the ropes, testing out new waters, and overusing cliches. (Sorry.)
The lovely part about constantly learning is that we can always improve.
The intimidating part about constantly learning is that we can always improve.
Thankfully trial and error is not the only way to learn. (Although it has its merits too.) Reading is one of the best, and quickest, ways to improve your writing. It might be the only apprenticeship writers have available to them, short of paying a massive sum of money for workshops. I certainly never had anyone to teach me how to write. I learned on my own, by writing, and—more importantly—by reading.
Here are four ways your writing will improve through reading.
Writing is not about using the biggest, most confusing words we can find in the dictionary, or about cruising through our thesaurus to find the fanciest way to say what we’re thinking.
Most often, the best way to say something is as simply and clearly as possible. Reading good writing will teach you how to state something in the clearest way possible, and yet still preserve the beauty of what you’re writing.
Reading bad writing will teach you what to avoid.
Your mind needs fresh material. If you stay locked away in your room, staring at a blinking cursor, your writing will stagnate. Reading introduces fresh ideas. So does going for a walk, sitting on a park bench, or listening to music. Reading is one way to open your mind and gain fresh perspective.
As writers, we need to be able to empathize with our characters. Our protagonists are easy enough, right? We love them, we understand them, we’re used to feeling what they feel.
But what about our antagonists? What about that annoying character who always does the wrong thing? What about the self-serving, greedy shopkeeper in the fifth chapter?
What about them? How do we empathize with them?
Reading teaches us to empathize, to feel for characters that are very different from ourselves. It helps us to see the world through different eyes and discover that our point of view is not the only point of view.
And that can only ever be a good thing.
Have you ever picked up a book, read it, and thought, Wow. I wish I could write like that.
Yeah, me too.
Writing is an odd mix of being absolutely sure your book is the best one out there, and knowing without a doubt that you should probably burn the whole manuscript. Reading gives us perspective on our own work, on areas where we could do better, and maybe on a few places where we might just be doing a great job. All of us have different strengths and weaknesses. Some people are better at characters, others ace every plot they put together. (Yeah, that’s not me.) But we all have an area of weakness that we can grow in, and reading may just be what highlights that for us.
There you are! My two cents on how reading can make you a better writer. Anyone else have thoughts?