Read To Be A Better Writer
Reading As The Foundation For Writing
Anyone who has ever assembled a piece of furniture can probably tell you that reading the directions without looking at a diagram makes the task much more difficult and confusing than it really needs to be. Once you have an example in front of you showing you what you need to do, it becomes much easier. The same is true of the writing process. It makes sense that if you don't read, if you haven't seen an example of what you are trying to create, producing a quality essay or paper is going to be extremely difficult. For those who only read the back of the cereal box in the morning or billboards on the highway that they pass on the way to work, composing a written paragraph that is clear and informative would probably be a struggle. This has nothing to do with intelligence, it has to do with possessing a point of reference in your own mind that you can use to make a mental template for what you would like to create.
Writing Skills Are Influenced By Reading Habits
In his 2006 article, Morris Freedman says "We have always had teachers at every level who understood that reading underpins writing". In my opinion, those teachers have the right idea. To be able to compose words into a coherent and flowing body of text, whether it is poetry or prose, requires an understanding of the language and how it can be used. What better way to learn this than by reading a wide variety of written work? With every body of work that a person reads, they are learning from the author. They learn how different people play with language to suit the purpose of their writing. Each new author is a new teacher, and even a romance novel can be a textbook in learning to write. The more you read, and the greater the variety of the things you read, the more you will have to draw from as a writer. When you read, you assimilate more than the content of the text; you also assimilate the way it was written, even if it is only on a subconscious level.
For a very long time my favorite author was Dean Koontz. This man has a very unique writing style, and it is imprinted undeniably on each and every book that I have read by him. I have found that if I write something while I am in the process of reading one of his novels, a little bit of his distinct voice starts to peek through my writing. It influences my sentence structure, my choice of words, and my tone. Even though the finished work is mine, a fan of his writing just might be able to spot his influence in it. The same is true of William Shakespeare, after reading his plays a little of his playful and dramatic personality adds itself to my writing. So, if you think about it, the quality of what you read really does have an impact on the way you write. If all you read is the newspaper, chances are you'll be great at writing dry, fact-centered, informative articles. But would you be able to write poetry or satire? Maybe you could. But you could certainly write it better if you have read various excerpts of poetry and satire before you begin.
Is Reading Really That Important?
I deeply value reading in my life. Reading, for me, is a vehicle into the realm of infinite possibilities. Whether I am reading about history, current events, or some science-fiction fantasy novel, reading opens up a window into a whole new world of information. It takes me through that window with a new tour guide each time, and each new tour guide presents the world beyond in a different light. I can't remember a time in my life when reading wasn't important to me. Even now, with a hectic schedule of work, parenting, socializing, and schoolwork I still make the effort to read for my own pleasure. Given the choice between a good book and watching television or a movie, nine times out of ten I'll take the book.
I believe that in order to write, one must first have an idea of what their finished piece of writing will be like. To have that plan, one must first know what a piece of writing really looks like. To understand a piece of writing, you need to read it. This is the basic foundation for becoming a writer. It is as essential as viewing a variety of building structures would be to an architect or as utilizing a variety of software would be to a computer programmer. Forming a knowledge base gives you a platform to jump off of, and in the case of writing, that platform is built by reading.
- Bonnie Jahns, 2008
Freedman, Morris (2006), “You Can’t Learn to Write Without Reading”, Education Week Vol. 26, Issue 12
Last updated on September 4, 2011
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