5 Great Reasons To Read Even MORE Than You Already Do

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Brandon Monk of Read. Learn. Write.

I didn’t come to writing with a natural stride. I came to writing with a broken leg, standing up only with the help of two crutches underneath my arms.

My writer’s “leg” had been broken by years of writing for the wrong reasons. I wrote for good grades in school. I wrote email and text messages with poor grammar to get people off my back. I wrote for a legal system which enforces brevity and discourages artfulness.

Recently, I realized I needed to cure my “broken leg” (a.k.a. my broken writing habits). So, I went back to books. I read more in order to study how writers work. In the process, I learned why writers must read. They must read because reading and writing are interconnected. Reading is the medicine all writers must have on hand at all times. Reading heals all writers’ injuries and illnesses.

Writing Is Your “Proving Grounds”

In the world of the military, they have something called theproving grounds,” where new weapons are tested before they are deployed. Missiles and computer targeting systems are used here so that they can be utilized in war later on, with greater confidence.

For a reader, their “proving grounds” should be the act of writing. A reader distinguishes himself and proves he is ready to use what he’s learned by actually writing. A writer explores what is true, and what will improve his/her life, by writing. Tactical “idea deployment” is only safe when it has been tested first. That “test” is writing.

Reading and Writing As The Opposite Ends of A “Cycle”

Do you remember being taught about the water cycle in school? Water in the atmosphere was once water in the oceans. Water in the oceans was once water filtering down a mountain stream.

Reading is the process by which you observe the “water cycle” of writing. You can learn how to be a better writer by “watching” the writing of another author. Finally, writing yourself is the process by which you begin to influence this writing cycle directly. This is powerful. You become the mountain that filters the stream (instead of just a bystander observing the stream). You can change the world this way.

These metaphors look at reading and writing as interconnected ideas (reading and writing are two ends of “a cycle”). That is crucial to understand. That is the first step. The next step is to understand how reading and writing interact with each other in a more practical way.

Let’s explore this idea by considering five reasons why writers must read.

1. Reading Teaches You How To Recognize Good Writing

Reading makes you intimately familiar with good writing. The more you read, the more you will begin to tell the difference between good and bad writing.

If reading a book isn’t the writers’ laboratory, it’s at least the writers’ “patent review application.” In a “patent review application,” the new idea is tested against similar inventions that came before it–in our case, the “prior” art. Reading, therefore, tests your ideas against the great writers of the past. By reading you prove, at least to yourself, that your writing has something to offer that is different from what came before it.

Reading tells you what an author did that worked. From there, you can develop your own opinions and find your own voice. The more you read, the more you’ll avoid writing foolishly.

2. Reading Exposes You To New Tools

Vocabulary is one of the building blocks of all good writing. New words are like tools that you can store away and pull out when needed. (For example, David Foster Wallace famously prepared epic lists of words he liked and stored them for later use.)

Books are an endless supply of new words. Don’t read with this end in mind, but, if you do read more, you will develop a knack for saying the exact thing you want to say. Words are tools to help increase the “exactness” of your writing. You can collect these tools through reading.

3. You’ll Never Have a Conversation With Your Favorite Dead Writer Unless You Read

Did you know it’s possible to have a conversation with any writer in the world, at any time you want? You can dictate the terms of the conversation, too.

Having troubling handling a particularly sticky situation in your writing, or your life? You can get an answer from any historical mentor you choose.

All you have to do is read and then re-read. Montaigne viewed his reading as conversations. I encourage a similar approach for writers. Read conversationally to find how a writer would comment on your writing–or life–challenges. Then, put the advice to use if you deem it worthy.

4. Read In Order To Better Know What You Might Like To Write

James Murphy gives good advice. He says that we shouldn’t be afraid to be labeled “pretentious.”

Don’t feel embarrassed by what you choose read. What you chose to read reveals your taste in writing.

This is brilliant advice for everyone. It is essential advice for writers. How can you know what you might like to write unless you read what you might like to write?

Read with a sense of wanting more–always.

This “wanting” will take your reading, and writing, to whole new levels.

5. You Need An “Ideal Reader” And, Unfortunately, You’re Not It

Alberto Manguel, an Argentine-born writer, created a concept called the “ideal reader” in his book A Reader on Reading. The ideal reader is the person best suited to read a given author’s work.

“Writers are never their own ideal reader,” Manguel says.

This means that all writers need help in order to be better appreciated. You will want the same help as a writer, so, offer it first to other writers. Something like karma is at work when you do this.

Give what you hope to receive. Read an author’s writing the way you would want your writing to be read. One day, the respectful investment you put into reading someone else’s work will be reciprocated when you begin to write.

To Conclude

Remember my writer’s “broken leg”? Well, it’s been healing. The best medicine for my broken leg, I discovered, was reading.

Today, I come to my writing with a feeling that my “leg” will heal. I will get better, and when I do get better, I will run. I will also be thankful for my ability to run because I have been on crutches for so long.

I wish the same (and more) for you.

Brandon Monk is an attorney and reader in a small city in Texas. He writes about reading, learning, and writing at readlearnwrite.com. Feel free to reach out to him @readlearnwrite on Twitter.

Have you found that reading is good medicine for what ails you? Whether you’re a writer or not, can you share an experience that will help others understand the importance of reading?

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28 comments on “5 Great Reasons To Read Even MORE Than You Already Do

  1. […] I have a guest post up on Courage 2 Create today. I hope you will check it out here. Many thanks to Ollin for giving me an opportunity to write for his site which I have followed for […]

  2. publicationcoach says:

    Here is a sixth reason you should read more (AND be careful about what you chose): Slowly, over time, you will start to sound like the authors you read. This can be a very good thing if you are reading authors with skill and style and a bad thing if you are reading authors like, say, John Grisham!

    • Great thought. I’ve heard authors talk about avoiding certain authors when they write. Sometimes they offer that in the context of avoiding them so their own voice doesn’t get swallowed up by another powerful voice.

      I think the trick is to read and even imitate for fun, but then remember why you started writing in the first place. For most, it is because you felt you had something unique to offer.

  3. This is a wonderful post. I’m so glad I READ it. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Reading is my friend on lonely days. Reading is my guide to what I can and cannot do with words. I know when a writer surpasses my every dream of writing. I know when a writer does not live up to my own desire for words. I read, I learn, I try to write, and each day I get closer to embracing the power of words as fully as I am able.

  4. This is an *awesome* post. Thank you for the guest posting!

    Yes, I do find that reading is good medicine, as it reminds me, both that I am not alone, and that it feeds my need for words – which is what brought me to writing in the first place.

  5. ansuyo says:

    Great advice!

  6. Thank you, Stephanie!

    Thanks also to Ollin for giving me the great opportunity! His readers are the best and I know that because I am one!

    Glad to hear your thoughts on how the two are so connected.

  7. krpooler says:

    Thanks, Brandon, for a very informative and thought-provoking post. I love the statement-” you’ll never have a conversation with a dead author unless you read”- words definitely leave a legacy. Also, since I have started writing, I find that I read with different eyes, mostly to learn how an author hooks me and keeps me turning the pages. Great job and thanks ,Ollin, for featuring Brandon. this week.

  8. Great post Brandon. I think I heard Stephen King say somewhere that the point of reading is this: you read and read and read until one day you come across a book and think to yourself ‘hey, I can write better than this!’ and then you give it a try.

    • King’s advice from “On Writing” came very close to making it into this post. He is a staunch advocate of reading and, more specifically, of encouraging writers to read.

      Keen eye to pick that message out, Aaron! Thanks.

  9. Lara Britt says:

    Loved the post. I also loved how I had to do a double take to realize it was a guest post. Brandon, you picked up what I like most about Ollin’s column and made it your own.

    • Wow, now that’s a compliment! I’m very happy to have had a chance to share some thoughts here. Can’t thank Ollin enough for that. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. Manali Shah says:

    You read better, you write better. You write better, you speak better. 🙂

  11. Jeanne says:

    At the risk of being repetitive, thank you Brandon. When I taught creative writing, which I did for years, my mantra was to be a writer you must be a reader. So good to have it revisited upon me. Now I am going to read one of my favourite authors — Alice Munro — because I need a dose right now. But having said that I also read widely across genres and styles. ‘Smiles’

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. That’s great advice to give a student. Of course, with reading, the fun part is actually in doing it so enjoy your time with Alice Munro.

  12. Really enjoyed this post. I haven’t been reading as much lately so it is a good reminder to enjoy the books again. I particularly love the idea of having a conversation with any writer you choose!

  13. Chrissy says:

    If I don’t read before I go to sleep, I don’t think I can sleep…reading is my favorite escape of all time. I read to enjoy and I read to learn. Great post.

    • Thanks! I tend to read before bed, too. In fact, if there is a constant in my reading schedule that would be it. So little is expected of you after everyone else is in bed. You get to read, without distraction, for a little while anyway.

  14. Hey Brandon, great post, and I love the 14 more reasons you give on your site too! Points 1 & 2 are probably the biggest for me. I also read for inspiration. When I’m struggling to write, it often goes together with not reading much.

    • Thank you! I’ve had several “aha!” moments while reading. I don’t know if that means I wasn’t paying attention or if the creative reading process stirred something up in my brain. I prefer to think the latter. You’re saying that about your writing made me think, maybe there is a connection.

  15. Kari Scare says:

    Reading is a crucial part of not only my life as a writer but of my life in general. Reading helps me process complex ideas such as religion and politics in a way that helps me to better understand them. Reading also helps me understand other people as I see a mix of traits of people I know in the characters of the books I read. Reading balances me out as a writer and leads me to ideas I would not otherwise find. When my writing begins to struggle, often it’s because I have been reading less for some reason. There are a few things I need to make sure to do daily, and two of the top ones are to read and to write.

  16. When I was a “cub” reporter in California, I looked to Joan Didion and Anais Nin for inspiration as a writer. I tried to copy the Didion style and became a better writer. I immersed myself in Nin’s creative life through her diaries. They gave me hope, new life. Then years later, I picked up her last volume and read it. It was the last diary that she wrote before she died at the age of 77. That book led to her first two diaries. When she was eleven years old, she started writing about the drama of leaving Spain and her father and coming to New York with her mother and two brothers. I am reading them now and becoming transformed. It’s like taking my self back to my self. Very few people indulge in the life of the imagination. My companions are fellow writers who I don’t know personally but who speak to me through their books.

    • That’s great. Thanks for sharing. Reading is such a wonderful source of true thoughts from people we wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to meet. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it, right?

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