The link between Reading and Writing
Stephen King is my go-to guy for great writing advice. His book On Writing is one of the most useful guides to writing ever published—and it’s an interesting biography too. In On Writing, King stresses that reading and writing are linked, that they are integral to each other. Reading and writing go hand in hand. And he’s right.
Firstly, reading offers a limitless source of inspiration for writers. I don’t just mean the characters and the settings and the plot twists that keep everyone’s imagination firing. I mean, particularly for writers, how reading another writers work makes you strive to better your own. There are some books that I finish, or sometimes just read the first page of and think “I wish I’d written this”. When I read top-quality writing—from King or Lee Child or Jo Nesbo or Derek Landy, or one of the other dozens of writers I admire, it stokes me up to better my own writing. It urges me to want to be able to write like that, to craft sentences and dialogue like that. It’s not copying, not even emulating, it just sparks an urge to get better, to improve your own work.
Then there’s the fact that books teach us things. I’m not talking about non-fiction, though some writing guides are very useful (On Writing), but fiction. This may be more common amongst writers, but a lot of the time I look at a sentence’s structure, or dialogue or description and think one of two things: I’m going to play around with structuring sentences like that, or writing sharper dialogue, or strike a balance in description. Or: That’s not how I want to structure a sentence or write dialogue or describe things. Reading offers clues to what to do, and what not to do—sometimes in the same book. If I’m writing something and I’m not sure about the pace, I look at a novel that handles pace well and see how the writer pulls it off. If I’m struggling with description, not sure where it’s necessary and where it isn’t, I look at book or a paragraph from a book that manages description well and try to see how the writer did it. Books are like an English lesson, the author the teacher.
The link between reading and writing is strong. If you do plenty of reading, not always, but in most cases, it’s a sure fire way to improve your writing.