If you’ve spent any time hanging around writers or looking up writing tips on the internet, there’s a good chance you will have probably already come across this little chestnut:
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.Stephen King
Now I know that sometimes I have been known to write posts in which I refute popular advice from writer sages however today is not one of those days. I’ve seen an alarming increase in people (usually on social media; seldom in print) insisting that you can write well without reading but I, for one, absolutely agree with Stephen King and you should too. Here’s why:
1) Reading teaches you about your craft. By reading a wide variety of stories by a wide variety of authors and in a wide variety of genres, you will begin to develop an intuitive understanding of how stories of various genres are structured.
Ah, but I want to be original! I hear you cry.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying for one second that you should create standardised fiction but you can’t create something both good and original if you don’t recognise the pros and cons to the standard conventions and traditions of story writing.
2) Reading fires the imagination. Back when I was at school, this was a generally accepted truth and it was certainly one that was taught in the classroom. The fact is, the more stuff you experience in life, the more raw material you have to work with in creating a story of your own. The trouble is, the Average Joe only experiences so much stuff. Oh it might be enough to knock out the odd novel or two but wide reading allows you to ‘experience’ a never ending plethora of other stuff, some of it so wild and different from real life that you never could experience is except through fiction. The more you experience through reading (and yes, through real life), the greater your imagination will be.
3) Reading expands your vocabulary and improves your grammar. I’m sure anyone who went to school as a child where language was properly taught will have sat through many a tedious class on the rules of grammar, punctuation and so forth. That’s all very good and important but in my experience, the best way to learn language is through absorbing it. Look at how a child learns to speak. My little two year old is very articulate (a little too articulate sometimes!) and it is because we have talked to her and read to her and exposed her to a limited amount of TV in which real honest to goodness language is used. We didn’t sit her down and teach her how to speak. She just picked it up through exposure.
So, too, with the written word: the more you expose yourself to it (along with a willing attitude for learning), the more you will assimilate. You’ll develop an intuitive knowledge for when things aren’t quite right. Not only that but…
4) … you’ll also learn style. Beyond simple spelling and grammar, there is style. Using words in a way which is not only correct, but is powerful. The greatest writers in history all have their own distinctive voice which has made their writing stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries, whether it be the dark humour which bubbles under the surface of Roald Dahl’s writing or the short, dagger-like sentences of Ernest Hemingway. While you cannot copy the voice of famous authors (nor should you attempt to), you can learn from them the multivarious techniques used to give your writing the perfect finished.
5) Reading is FUN. Surely you, as a writer, understand this. I mean, you are investing a lot of time and energy into writing a novel which you presumably expect people to read and enjoy. If it’s worth the trouble to entertain others with your blood, sweat and tears, why would it be a waste of time to read the toil of your fellow authors? It is surely the height of arrogance to suggest your novel is important enough to spend time reading while all others are a waste of time. More to the point, however: writing, like any other job, is tough. It’s time consuming, it saps your energy and it’s good to do something which lets you unwind. While there are plenty of other hobbies you can indulge in (I’ve got a few myself), I know of no other which excites the imagination, stimulates the intellect, stirs the emotions and makes you an altogether better person, all from the comfort of your armchair, quite like reading.
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Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlight, drop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.
I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.
Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.
You can check out our previous interviews here: