If You Want to Write, Read!

During my class last week, I asked my students how many of them read fiction regularly. About half the class raised their hands. I said that each one of them should have raised their hands, because the best way to learn to write well is to read. By reading quality writing, a writer absorbs a sense of language, learns how to punctuate, and gains a grasp of sentence pacing.

I had one student semi-argue with me in private that if writers read, they are wasting their time, time better spent writing. I agreed that if writers choose to read when they have the time to write, they might be avoiding the harder task, but we agreed that, given the option of reading versus watching television, a reader gains more by reading. (Though I do believe that television can teach writers how to write pithy dialogue and how to plot a story.)

Still, I insist that writers must read. Expand your horizons. Read in a variety of genres. And as you read, think. Notice punctuation and sentence structure. Look up vocabulary you don’t know or remember. Ask yourself why sentences are punctuated as they are. If you read a sentence that makes you pause, ask yourself why it did so. If it was because of a particular observation or turn of phrase, write it down. If it was because you were suddenly aware of the writer, ask yourself why that happened and how it could have been avoided.

Read voraciously, and always keep your mind working. It’s okay to get lost in the story, but never lose sight of the fact that reading is an opportunity to learn.

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