Over the last four months, productive writing in my "writing cave" has been predominantly lacking. A variety of reasons, too boring to bother you with, has been the cause of this downturn. Instead of writing, circumstances have allowed me to read more and different books than I usually read. My husband has even opened up new realms of reading for me. To assuage my guilt as I sat and read more than I was writing, I focused on this quote from Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
So, having had the time to do a bit of reading lately, here are the tips I garnered and want to share with you:
1. Vocabulary Expansion.
Even the most accomplished of writers can always come across a new word. Expanding one's vocabulary is essential to writing in order to bring to our readers the gift of words perhaps they don't know. Additionally, new words enhance a writer's speaking vocabulary. The skill of being articulate and well-spoken is a benefit to any writer when speaking or engaging with agents, editors, and readers. If there are foreign language words in the text, you begin to learn another language. The increasing diversity in our population makes this another added benefit to reading.
2. Improved Writing Skills.
Increased vocabulary influences your creativity and imagination, thus improving your ability to write a great short story, fiction or nonfiction, or essay. Likewise, while reading another's writing, your mind likely absorbs the style of the writer. The editor-in-chief at Pick the Brain explains in a post, 10 Ways to Improve Your Mind by Reading the Classics:
Reading the classics is the easiest way to improve your writing. While reading you unconsciously absorb the grammar and style of the author. Why not learn from the best? Great authors have a tendency to take over your mind. After reading, I’ve observed that my thoughts begin to mirror the writer’s style. This influence carries over to writing, helping form clear, rhythmic sentences.
In much the same way musicians influence other musicians and the masters other painters , writers learn from reading the works of other writers.
3. Boost to Your Creativity.
Reading fiction especially transports you to another time and place and generally, your mind floats freely to visualize "where" the book is taking you. The kind of creative process you sense in your reading also enhances the ability to business problems, write books and music, and for some, even research and create advancements to aid humanitarian needs. A boost in creativity also allows the reader and the writer to step into the emotions a character is feeling or experiencing. Imagination is not all about reality; it is also about becoming the character you are empathizing with. Remember as a child when you pretended you were someone else? As we grow older, we tend to lose that imaginative process but reading can sharpen it once again as we identify with characters. Reading books of other authors allows you to experience how they develop characters, paint the scenes, and imbue their characters with emotions.
4. Learn More About Yourself.
These last few weeks have broadened my reading horizon. My husband and I don't always read the same genre. Lately, he has read works by John McPhee, famed The New Yorkercontributor and author of many books, and William Least Heat-Moon, author of several nonfiction works, including Blue Highways. Occasionally, my husband would come to me to read a passage that he had enjoyed. The writing would be of such quality and nuance that I couldn't resist reading a whole page and truthfully I wanted to take the book away from him. I have now started reading these two authors and others who write good narrative nonfiction. What I'm finding is an enjoyment of a genre I had rarely picked up before. I'm seeing the crafting of beautiful sentences turning into amazing landscapes, characters into living and breathing souls, and an array of subjects written about so creatively that I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. This often happens when you read something different, something outside your usual reading box.
5. Learn New Organizational Schemes.
Reading the works of others lets us in on how the writer organizes fiction, nonfiction, memoir, biography, and more. Reading a book or article gathered into the whole by a schematic pattern we'd never considered before may impact our current project or the next one in line. We literally learn a new method or pattern of writing. Whether we use it right away or not, it is a new organizational skill set that is available in our writing if we file it away somewhere so it is easily found again.
6. Discovery of New Ideas and Improved Analytical Skills.
I read a lot of memoir books as a general rule because that is the genre I am writing in currently. I want to see what others are doing in the writing and publishing of their stories because it triggers new ideas for me in my writing. As I read memoir, I gain insight into why a writer uses a certain method. This new knowledge then blends with my past knowledge which in turn corrects my misunderstanding of certain forms of writing, broadens my interests, and improves my problem solving skills. Because of these new ideas and skills, my reasoning improves and my analytical skill set is also enhanced allowing me to write solid and convincing material.
7. Improved Focus and Concentration.
Have you ever thought about all that you carry out within a five-minute span while on the Internet? In our Internet-crazed world, we multitask as if we were whirling dervishes! Likely you can in a single five-minute span to divide your time between a writing project, checking email, Skyping with a friend or two, watching your Twitter account, and monitoring your Smartphone. This type of fragmented behavior causes stress levels to rise and lowers your productivity. But when reading a book, your mind focuses solely on the story. Everything around you falls away and you are immersed in the finite details of your book. A sense of tranquility enters your world and your stress levels drop and when you resume your writing, you are more productive.
It is my hope that within this list of seven benefits you have found something new and helpful to you as a writer, or perhaps to you as a reader.
Don't forget what the good Dr. Seuss says about reading. It applies to all of us--young and old, writers and non-writers:
What about you? Does reading help in your writing? If you have a specific example of how reading a book, essay or short story revealed something about your writing, please share it with the rest of us in comment below.