Why Reading Helps Writing
Is it necessary to read in order to be a writer? Recently, this question popped up several times on my social media walls, on both Twitter, and some Facebook groups. Since I really care about this topic (reading and writing and the relationship between them), I wanted to share my two cents as well. Of course, this post reflects solely my personal opinion, and has no intention to disregard other points of view.
Short answer to the above question: in order to be a writer, perhaps no; in order to be a good writer, absolutely.
Reading enhances writing in countless ways, and these are only a few:
1. It helps you find the genre you are most comfortable with
How else can a writer choose the genre they like the most if not by reading other books of that genre? In order to understand a specific genre, you need to know it well. I cannot imagine how one can start writing a historical fiction novel if they’ve never read historical fiction before. Though they might have an idea, definitions and theories are not enough.
2. Reading genre-specific books is part of research
When you choose to write a certain type of novel, it is important to see how other authors in the same genre tackled issues such as technical research, historical accuracy, or poetic license. What is accepted in terms of historical accuracy in a romance novel might not be easily accepted in historical fiction, and so on. This is why reading lots of books in the same genre to have an idea of what is allowed and what not is certainly helpful.
3. It helps you find your voice as an author
I’ve already written about my personal experience with finding my voice as a writer. Reading had a crucial part in that. It was incredibly useful to “hear” other authors’ voices while experimenting with my own, in order to find and develop my style. As much as writing in general falls within certain definitions and patterns of literary theory, there aren’t two authors who write exactly the same – in other words, there aren’t two authors with the same voice.
This is not something you are born with. It’s something you need to practice a lot. In the beginning, you might discover that your writing is strikingly similar to that of your favorite author of that time, and that’s fine. It’s part of your transformation. Experimenting and finding inspiration in others while polishing your own style are also part of the process. In the end, your voice is the ultimate result of various influences that merge, transform and adapt to your personality as an author. In order to get there, you need to “hear” as many voices as possible. In other words, you need to read a lot.
4. It helps you understand story structure
Understanding narrative structure is an essential step in the writing process. Fortunately, now there are plenty of writing advice sources available, from blogs to YouTube channels, so creative writing has long ceased to be something strictly associated to the academic world. Of those resources, my personal favorite is Ellen Brock. While I had the advantage of studying literature and writing since high school and until I graduated from university, her channel was really useful as a refresher, and I cannot recommend it enough.
With so many information sources available, now everyone, from all walks of life, can learn how to be a writer. As long as they know the definition of narrative and of show not tell, everyone can be an author. Right? Theoretically, yes. Practically, not exactly. While it is certainly important to know what to do, it is equally essential to know how to do it. And the best method is reading. At some point, after reading for years, you get to realize that you have unconsciously grasped the cogs and mechanisms of creative writing. This is when those writing advice resources come in handy, helping you pinpoint each of these mechanisms and how to work with them.
5. It improves your vocabulary and use of language
This is quite self-explanatory. A writer who also reads a lot will undoubtedly have a wider and richer vocabulary and will master language better. When you are an experienced reader, it is definitely easier to find the perfect word without looking for synonyms in countless dictionaries. The sentences will also have a more natural flow, and the text will be almost free of grammar errors.
While knowing the definition and modus operandi of story structure is certainly helpful, reading is the mechanism that truly makes theory shine. The more you read, the more your writing will be polished and appealing, and your message will get across more easily. Reading not only provides a model to see how literary theory applies, but, most importantly, it also expands your universe.