If you want to write, you have to read

Writing is a sensitive and very personal art, regardless of whether it’s done for business or as a hobby, and it’s one that can easily leave us with an inflated or deflated opinion of ourselves.

A self-conscious writer might pick up a famous work of fiction and curse that they will never be able to put together something of that brilliance, while a more arrogant one might barely read at all, preferring to immerse themselves in their own project and refusing to take inspiration from anyone else, past or present.

Whichever camp you fall into, the fact is that to be an accomplished writer, whether in literature, business or any other field, you must be reading what other people are doing. A passion for writing will be a misplaced one unless you can back it up by regularly taking in material from elsewhere, and perhaps the biggest mistake that would-be writers tend to make is simply failing to read widely.

But I haven’t got time to read as well as write!

Some writers might argue that reading only serves as a distraction from the task at hand. After all, if you’re trying to write something yourself, won’t reading someone else’s work just be a diversion?

Not really. You should take care not to plagiarise existing work, but reading is not only enjoyable, but inspiring. Whatever we’re reading, be it a story, report or anything else, we’re exposing ourselves to ideas that all form part of what know to be ‘the way to write’. The more we experience, the more impressive our knowledge becomes.

Why does reading help writing?

Writing is like any other art or profession in that watching experts do it can only help you do it better. Doctors watch operations, lawyers watch trials and footballers watch football matches. They all want to see how others do it, and learn from what they see.

The importance of influence is perhaps even greater in art. Musicians, for example, are always influenced by somebody else, and will at some point have heard something that made them want to write music themselves. As they continue to listen to music, the number of sounds and ideas they are experiencing grows, and they are left with a vast arsenal of sources they can integrate into their own work.

It’s no different with writing. By reading widely and regularly, you are introducing yourself to new ideas and styles. That sentence-structuring and storytelling part of your brain is getting regular exercise and, without a conscious effort, you are teaching yourself how to go about constructing your work.

Read objectively

Next time you read a book, short story, newspaper article or even a technical document, do your own analysis of it. What parts of it were strong, and were there any parts you would’ve done differently? Was there anything in there that you’ve never seen done before, or that you wouldn’t have thought to do yourself?

It’s common when reading to think “I would never have thought of that,” which can lead to an inferiority complex as you might think yourself to be lacking in ideas. Remember, though, that writing is personal and there are probably ideas and styles you can display that others would not think of. Seeing something you couldn’t do yourself doesn’t necessarily make you a worse writer, but a different one.

Reading keeps you level-headed. It makes you realise that there are some excellent writers to aspire to, but also that anyone can pick up a pen or sit in front of a keyboard and have a go. The more you do it, and the more you see others do it, the better you’ll get.

If you’re looking for a helping hand as a penman or penwomen, we have two excellent resources available for you at bargain prices, both of which can be completed at your leisure.

Our ‘Freelance Writing for Businesses’ course is usually priced at £295, but by entering the discount code WRITER in the checkout, you can get it for just £29.

Meanwhile, our ‘How to Self Publish an eBook’ course, usually £245, is currently available for £25 with the discount code BOOK25.

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web

Latest posts by John Murray (see all)

Categories: Writing

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