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Readers learn to write

January 21st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
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I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Read. I once spoke to a writer (who’s name I unfortunately can’t remember. She wrote about stress, if that helps), who said that would-be writers would tell her they avoided reading. Why on Earth would they do that? Because they did not want to be influenced by other writers! They didn’t want their voice to be sullied, or to be inspired to derivative ideas.

Well, here’s the thing, and I know I’m probably preaching to the converted here, but you should want to be influenced! You should expose yourself to as many voices as possible in the hope that it will help your own voice mature; you should want to be inspired by other writers’ ideas (this doesn’t mean you have to rip them off, as suggested by the comment above).

Reading others’ writing can teach us so much. Here’s a quick (and by no means exhaustive) list of things to look out for when reading:

  • Structure (of whole story, of chapter, of paragraph)
  • Pace
  • Characterisation (how is a character put across?)
  • How does the theme come across?
  • Use of description (when and how much)

Okay, that really wasn’t exhaustive, but it’s the main things that I think about at the moment when I’m reading a novel (currently reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson by the way, which is amazing).

The single most important thing for me though (and feel free to disagree. That’s what commenting is for!) is you should learn what you like. What sections did you enjoy most? Why was that? Was it because of a particularly witty bit of wordplay, because it made you laugh, it got your blood pumping, you just got introduced to a new favourite character, you were intrigued, you had a plot epiphany… on and on and on. Read widely, and you can build quite an impressive list of things you like, and even better, these valuable lessons will start to infiltrate your own writing almost automatically.

You want proof? Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t give you anything rock solid. The best I can come up with is that I have observed that those people who are in the habit if reading, are more comfortable with the act of writing. I myself feel that I am a much better writer due to my enjoyment of books since childhood.

I know. Not exactly an exhaustive study under scientific conditions, is it. But it makes intuitive sense that those who read will learn something about writing from it, especially if that’s where your focus lies.

There are other reasons to read a lot, which I will probably cover in another post. In the mean time, if you would like to discuss it in more detail, the comments section beckons!

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