Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Reading widely improves your writing skills

Think about it: every word you know, every little collection of letters you piece together to compose your vocabulary, you know from reading. Maybe you don’t know from directly reading it yourself, but someone might have told you, and they would have read it—in a book, on a sign, in a newspaper, on a screen, on a banner, to name just a few. We view words everywhere we go. It is an inescapable part of our society. Whether you like to read or not, you are always bound to have to place a bunch of letters together and depict their meaning, even if you are just following directions in a car. Reading is not just a book.

If you read the same type of work, or only texts written by one author, your writing skills will naturally be not as varied as someone who reads more widely 

However, signposts directing you from Coventry to London might not exactly have a huge impact on your writing skills. For many, it is the act of opening a novel and digesting a story that helps further their ability to communicate a narrative on a page. We are intentionally learning as we are reading. We may be learning how character arcs develop, how to implement humour into dialogue, when to introduce villains, how to structure narratives so the climax neither comes too early nor too late, why it is important to breathe life into characters in order to produce empathy, and so on. We take tips from our favourite novels, and we reproduce their writing habits by intermingling them with our own styles. It may be an unconscious result of reading (not everyone reads to learn – in fact, most people prefer to read for pleasure over academia), but it is still an ever-present consequence.

If you read the same type of work, or only texts written by one author, your writing skills will naturally be not as varied as someone who reads more widely. You will only be learning from one source, one style of writing, one repeated vocabulary, and one type of method of employing writing techniques. So, to improve your writing, you should first venture out. Read more of what you don’t know. If you like to read romance, pick up a horror book. If you are a diehard sci-fi fan, snatch up a contemporary novel on your next visit to the bookshop. Explore a different world to the one you usually escape in to. Next, see how the author writes. Take note of the way they create images in your head, the type of words they use (is the style short and blunt, or long and eloquent?), the effect these choices have on their story. Be a critic and only then will you learn.

They need to know what’s fashionable in the industry, what works and what doesn’t, and what they can do to elevate themselves to popularity

Reading more widely is also helpful for inspiring you. It can help you devise new ways of describing common scenarios in your writing, inventive ways of constructing certain scenes, develop your understanding of the type of genre you are most interested in writing about (and the typical tropes of said genre), and increase your knowledge of how you can stand out. Imagine being a musician who has never listened to any music. How do they know they are not just singing the same song as someone else? They need to know what’s fashionable in the industry, what works and what doesn’t, and what they can do to elevate themselves to popularity. Writers need to do the same. They need to know what type of books are already out there, and what idea is going to captivate publishers.

If you make your reading list more diverse, you will expose yourself to a wider range of vocabularies and styles of presentation. And when that natural inclination to mimic and integrate the type of writing you have read kicks in, you will ensure you are not writing the same thing over and over again. Your writing will feel richer, flourished with a combination of amalgamated styles and linguistic choices. You will create a blend of everything you have read, and you will be a better writer for it.

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