You’ve heard it a hundred times, haven’t you? If you want to become a better writer, you need to read more.
And it’s not just good advice for professional writers either. Writing well helps anyone to communicate better, to express their thoughts and feelings with greater clarity. And a greater understanding of the written word helps us to develop a better comprehension of the world around us.
It’s clear that reading and writing go together. But to fully understand the benefits of reading and how it applies to better writing, let’s first look at some of the reasons why we should read. And then we’ll go into how to read more effectively.
Reading is Primary
Dan Kurland at criticalreading.com gets right to the point. “Reading is primary. One can only write as well as one can read.” You have to first understand how language works as a reader before you can communicate as a writer.
Improving your reading skills will help to understand “how thoughts are developed and how meaning is conveyed in a written discussion.” And Mr. Kurland further urges us to become “more aware in our reading” in order to extract meaning from the written word. “When we see how we draw meaning from others, we can see how to instill meaning in our own work.”
Reading Gives You Language
The following snippet on language is from Joanna June:
“Reading exposes you to the words, vernacular, relate-able stories and information to describe something you know but didn’t have the language for previously.”
And a few more practical aspects of developing your reading skills are:
- It will improve and reinforce your vocabulary development.
- It exposes the reader to different writing styles and models.
- Reading expands and deepens your approach to subject knowledge.
- It gives you the opportunity to comprehend a topic at your own pace.
Jeff Goins emphasizes the point that to become better at their craft, “Writers need to read. A lot. They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words.” And reading will help you do that.
Reading Expands Possibilities
Not only is reading instructive, it’s also inspirational to read the works of others as it keeps our flow of words fresh and in a state of evolution.
Also, through the practice of reading more, you avoid slipping into writer’s rut. That is, as you broaden your perspective and knowledge base through reading, your writing skills naturally expand and grow correspondingly.
Now let’s move on to some techniques to improve your reading effectiveness.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
While it’s fine and well to study the style and characteristics of your own genre and favorite authors, to really reap the benefits of reading you’ll have to “venture outside of your normal reading realm.” This is from Joel Goldman who believes that writers should read from a buffet of styles and topics.
This is a common theme in all of our research for this topic – read outside of your normal sphere of influence. Read romance, thrillers, non-fiction, biographies, magazines and manifestoes. Basically, anything you can get your hands on.
Mr. Goldman also presses the writer to “Read things that would normally turn you off.” This will broaden your perspective and gain a better understanding of the appeal of the subject matter, and its audience.
Develop the Reading Habit
We’ve established that to be a better writer, you’ll need to read more. And to benefit fully from reading, consider developing it into a habit.
- Determine what your reading goal is and set up prompts to remind you. This is important in the beginning to stay on track – use post-its, journal about your goal, set reminders on your computer, etc.
- Plan ahead to determine when you can read. If necessary, start small and grab 10 or 15 minutes when you can. At bedtime, coffee breaks, lunch, or waiting for appointments… by doing this four or five times a day, you can clock an hour’s worth of reading. And again, set up appropriate cues to trigger the new behavior you’re trying to develop.
- Always have some reading material with you;:a book, magazine or a longread online. And keep a stash of books in the places you’re likely to read: your purse or messenger bag, by the bed or your favorite chair and in the car.
- Take notes. In 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, author Dan Coyle references some interesting research. People who read 10 pages then stop and take notes in summary form, retain 50% more information than those who read 10 pages four times in a row. Jotting down notes in bullet points is equally effective.
Study the Mechanics
With every book you read, try to establish a little distance from the plot and begin to notice how the author has put it all together. You’ll still be reading for pleasure, but a bit of emotional separation will help to develop your scrutinizing skills.
Some observational practices to employ are:
- Study the authors’ style and voice, and the manner in which they’ve developed characters.
- Analyze the plot and identify the main ideas.
- Learn to skim as you read to glean the gist of the material.
- Scan the text for pertinent information, and re-read what’s relevant.
- Think about what the author is saying. And,
- How they’re saying it. Try to identify the unique manner in which they group words together, or the patterns and rhythm they use to convey an idea.
Well, clearly there are plenty of good reasons why reading will help us to become better writers. Put into practice some or all of the above ideas to improve your reading abilities. And as you start reading more, you’ll experience a growth in your comprehension, communication, and knowledge base – which will naturally lead to greater writing success.