WHY YOU LEARN WRITING BEST FROM READING
In the last 25 years I have read countless books on the craft of writing and partaken in numerous writing workshops. They have taught me the basic rules about writing, but not writing itself. Writing well is what I’ve learned from reading – though it took a while for that penny to drop.
For a writer, reading is gold. It gives you a reader’s perspective, and that will enable you to see what emotionally engages you as reader and what doesn’t. Then you can analyse the writing as a writer and learn from it.
Reading allows you not only to get carried away by the characters and their stories, but also to focus on analysing the authors’ writing. As you read, you may notice a great passage revealing character, a passage fostering your empathy with the main character, a passage transporting you straight to a place. If you don’t want to stop reading, dog-ear the pages containing those passages. This allows you to come back to them once you’ve finished reading that book or short story and analyse how the author has achieved that revelation of character, that fostering of the reader’s empathy with the main character, that sense of place.
Aside from noticing passages of great writing, you can also ask yourself more general questions about the authors’ approaches to structure, choices about points of view, links between plot and theme, choices about characters and revealing them through their actions, thoughts and the ways they speak.
The more you read, the more you develop an understanding of what the authors did and how they did it, what works and what doesn’t. Not that you’ll find examples for what doesn’t work in my blog, but in reading widely, you’ll come across them, and learn from them, too.
Many experts tell you to focus your reading on the type of writing you want to do: If you want to write short stories, read as many as you can, from many different authors. If you want to write novels or memoir, read as many of them as you can, from many different authors. And while there is some truth in that, I believe you can learn writing from reading anything, regardless of whether it fits the genre you want to write.
In On Writing, Stephen King writes, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Many of the authors I interviewed for my book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors echo this message. Finally I know that they are right and why they are right. And I hope that my blog will send you on that path, too.