Friday, June 6, 2014
Reading and Writing Go Hand in Hand
Reading and writing go hand in hand. To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. The more you read, the better writer you’ll become. This is a pretty bold statement, but it’s true. Exposure to good writing is imperative. Reading just anything won’t do. You have to read well-written articles, stories, and books before you can understand how to write them well.
Most people read to be informed and/or entertained. As a writer, you have to read for technique and, yes, ideas. The broader your reading—the more different kinds of writing you read—the more of each you’ll absorb and the more ideas you’ll have for your own work.
Begin by making it a daily habit. Work the reading of articles in newspapers, magazines, and journals (either online or in print) into your daily routine. With the proliferation of electronic tablets and e-readers, it’s easy to catch up on what interests you while you’re on your coffee break or while eating lunch.
Consider cross-platform programs like Evernote. With its free version, you can save articles or other writing from the Internet to read when you have time. And you can make notes on what you read if reading from a laptop or tablet. Of course, you can always take along a paperback book to read while having lunch in a nearby park or even while sitting at the picnic table outside your office building where you work.
The wider your reading, the better. But make sure what you’re reading lies within your fields of interest. That’s not saying you shouldn’t read something new and different once in while. But if you stick to what interests you, you’ll be more likely to enjoy what you’re reading because you have some interest in the subject matter. Perhaps you’re interested in anything having to do with the Arctic or Antarctic. You might read articles, short stories, non-fiction books and novels about either location----all within you realm of interest.
You may be interested in reading various genres of writing—science fiction, mysteries, detective stories, westerns, etc. But if you don’t enjoy a particular genre, reading it for whatever reason won’t make you like it any more. In fact, it may totally turn you off to it because you see reading it as a self-assignment of sorts.
Also, be sure to stick to writing that has been professionally edited or at least written by a professional, such as this blog. Not all blogs fall into this category, however. Some are just ramblings of everyday people with something to say on a particular subject. And while they’re useful for gleaning information, the writing in them isn’t always up to par.
You can also read or re-read works of literature. But watch out. The older a piece of writing is, the more its style will be dated. And you want to read writing from the last 50-70 years—the period that includes modern writers like Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, Tom Wolfe, Ann Rice, and Truman Capote.
Remember, you’re writing in the 21st Century, so the technique and style you need to absorb should be of your contemporaries. But that doesn’t mean you can’t glean ideas from famous works. Try to figure out how the writer developed his or her idea for a story or book. Was it relevant at the time? Was it related to current events? Is it still relevant or could it be relevant again in a new form?
And while no idea should be done again in exactly the same way, you could put your own spin to an old classic. Take “Romeo and Juliet,” for example. This story of star-crossed lovers has been done over hundreds of times, each as intriguing as the last.
In the process of reading, learn to recognize bad writing. Then steer clear of it, both in your reading and your own writing.