By: Angie Byler
One of my favorite parts of moving into a new house is unpacking my boxes of books and putting them on their new shelves. Their familiar faces make me feel right at home. Home is where your friends are, and books make wonderful companions. Books are loyal, they are always there when you need them, and when you’re tired of them, you can simply put them back on the shelf. Best of all, in our favorite books, we always have the finest teachers at our disposal.
I love writing, but reading will always be my first love. On my first day at college, my English Composition professor told the class that our writing skills are directly proportional to how much we read. She told us that she can tell how much students read by how they write papers. I was flabbergasted. For whatever reason, I never made the connection between reading well and writing well. When I understood that reading is an important aspect of learning to write, it changed how I viewed reading. Suddenly, my hobby became a huge factor in my development as a writer. When I read, I am not wasting valuable writing time; I am actually investing in my writing skills.
Our brains are complex organs. When we write, we expend a lot of creative energy. Think of your brain like a car: it can’t produce an unlimited amount of creativity without fuel. In order to write more, we refuel by reading a book. Watching a movie or listening to music has a similar effect, but to a lesser degree. When we read, our brains are more engaged than when we watch TV.
Many common questions that new writers have can be answered by reading. Have a question about dialogue? The best thing you can do is open a favorite book and study how the author handles dialogue. Try to understand why the author is making certain choices. Is your poem not flowing well? Pick up a book of poetry and study how other poets resolved their rhyme schemes. Another reason to read more, and to read broadly across different genres, is to learn to recognize common tropes and scenarios. Understand why authors are using particular plots, so that you can make deliberate choices about your own stories.
Books make the best teachers. This is why many successful authors, such as Elizabeth Gilbert, say that it is not necessary to get an MA in Creative Writing to become a good writer. While education is always useful, you can learn everything you need to know about writing by reading a book.
So, read. Read anything. Read good books, so you will know what to aspire to. Read poorly written books, so you will learn to recognize errors in your own writing. If you read consciously, and learn to recognize patterns in the material, you will improve as a writer.