In my writing workshops, I’m often being asked: “Is reading essential if I want to write?”
Stephen King’s answer to that question is rather blunt:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Needless to say, this insight from King of suspense fiction is spot-on and I have to fully agree with his statement. But why is it so important to be an avid reader if you want to be a writer? How does reading makes your writing better?
We never question the fact that a musician listens to music or a filmmaker watches films. Why do we even question the idea that a writer should read books? To be good in any field, you need to know what you’re doing. You can’t be a lawyer if you’ve never studied law. The same goes with writing: you can’t expect to write a book if you don’t read books. It’s impossible to produce good pieces of work without experiencing and studying the masterpieces that have been made before. Think of the craftsman who learns by watching his teacher.
“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” – William Faulkner
Among the numerous benefits of reading, here are just a few:
• Gaining knowledge and ideas
Writing is telling stories about people or topics you’ve experienced or heard about. Reading allows us to have a bigger scope of stories to write about and to broaden our general and specific knowledge to make these stories richer.
• Learning technique and language
Shall I put a comma, a period or a semicolon? How do I write a dialogue? What typographical rules do I need to know? Is that grammatically correct to write “he was being born”? By reading and seeing repeatedly masterful use of language and editorial conventions, our spelling, syntax and vocabulary will improve and when it’s time for us to write, it will be much easier to choose our own words and shape them on the paper.
• Distinguishing between poor and quality writing
Reading exposes us to different styles, voices and genres of writing. It exposes us to bad and good writing, thus educating our palate and giving us a taste of what quality writing is. After all, how can you know what’s good and what’s bad if you don’t try different things?
• Finding inspiration:
Reading is one of the best ways to counteract writer’s block. A good book and beautiful writing rekindle our love for words and stories, and inspire us to get back to our own work-in-progress.
And here is a quote from The Catcher in the Rye (1956), my favorite of all times, that says it all:
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
It’s never too late to start! If you are now convinced that reading will make you a better writer, here is a list of book suggestions. I tried to pick out a variety of genres, literary periods and countries of origins, so you have a nice selection to choose from. What these pieces have in common is a quality of writing that fills me with awe whenever I read them. Of course, the below is a non-exhaustive personal selection. It’s time for you to explore the vast world of literature and discover what your favorite territories are!