After I left university, I worked as a secretary for a mayor for a while. He had a policy of only hiring people who were university graduates – preferably those with an Arts Degree. He was not an intellectual snob; he was simply an astute politician and businessman. He knew that they were survivors who had found a way to think for themselves in a tough environment. (Yes, contrary to what you may believe, university is not easy.)
At the root of his philosophy, whether he realised it or not, was the fact that these people had a lifetime of reading behind them. Confucius understood this. He said, ‘No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to
The Students Without Books
When I first thought about writing, it was because I loved to read. When I started teaching Writers Write, it came as a shock that some people who wanted to write books did not want to read them. This does not make sense. It is like an aspiring cricket player who knows nothing about the sport, and who does not like watching the game, arriving at team trials.
Stephen King says, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ Reading makes you think and it teaches you how to write.
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Seven Important Reasons Why Writers Should Also Be Readers
- Educate Yourself. I can look at an email and tell if a person spends time reading. If you want to be intelligent, you have to expose your mind to intelligent thoughts and complicated ideas. The best way to do this is by reading novels as well as non-fiction. If you can follow and enjoy a carefully crafted story, you will remember things you read in that book for the rest of your life. If you only read non-fiction, your writing becomes as sterile and dry and boring as the subject matter you consume.
- Develop Communication Skills. The best way to learn how to communicate is by reading books that move you. You will absorb the words that link into sentences that create paragraphs and chapters and meaning. The more you read, the more easily you will be able to call on this skill. It will improve your blogging, social media posts, business writing and creative writing techniques. Reading gives you the chance to see what works and–more importantly–what doesn’t. ‘The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order,’ says Stephen King.
- Empathise. Reading gives you ways to inhabit other worlds and other lives without leaving home. If you are reading a good book, you will see, hear, taste, smell and touch everything a character does. You will vicariously experience joy and sorrow. Reading allows you to observe the emotional development of a character, how he or she faces adversity and resolves problems. You are going to have to do this when you write. Learn from good writers. James Baldwin wrote, ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.’
- Find Inspiration. There is nothing like reading a brilliant book to get you motivated to write. Sometimes, reading a bad book is good too. It will make you think that you can do better than that. ‘Read! Read! Read! And then read some more. When you find something that thrills you, take it apart paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, to see what made it so wonderful. Then use those tricks the next time you write,’ says W.P. Kinsella
- Support Other Writers. This seems obvious. If you want people to read and buy your books, it seems like a good idea to support the industry from which you would like to make a living. ‘Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them,’ says Lemony Snicket.
- Stimulate Your Brain. Reading exercises the most important organ in our bodies. It helps improve our memory and if we learn something new every day, we become more interesting. Studies have shown that reading fiction improves analytical thinking and enhances problem-solving skills. Lose yourself in fictional stories and give your brain an enjoyable workout. Sherman Alexie says, ‘If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.’
- Relax. Most writers have brains that never stop. We worry. We think. We plot. We plan. We obsess. When you read, your mind is forced to focus, the tension drops away as you get involved in a story. Always read books you enjoy. If you don’t like a book, stop reading it. Start another one. Life is too short to read bad books.
Writers also love talking about the books they read and it follows that they should not be in a relationship with people who don’t read, or who only read non-fiction. We should heed those wise words of John Waters: ‘If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.’ Ignore this advice at your own peril.
I hope these reasons inspire you to read.
© Amanda Patterson