Do You Need To Read Before You Write?

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I read a lot of both fiction and nonfiction. Three books a week on average and too many articles to count. Some authors say it’s bad if you need to read to write. Others say it’s absolutely necessary. I’m on the side of reading and I’ll tell you why.

You Were a Reader First

Every great writer was a great reader first. Like any skill, learning from those who came before is a big part of success. Reading teaches us spelling, sentence structure and how to put together an article or book.

While most books follow the same popular formulas, some great variations pop up now and then. For example, Cloud Atlas told the first half of several stories and then worked it’s way back out to the first story, finishing each. The more you read, the better your chances of finding some of those variations. You never know what ideas may work for you.

Reading Makes You an Expert

When you read piles of novels following the same form, but telling different stories, you become an expert in what is needed to make a story work. The good books flow smoothly through the story. The bad ones slap you in the face with their mistakes and that teaches you what not to do. This is why some writers say you should read bad books.

Nonfiction books are similar to novels, but you get a lot more variety. While novels tend to be 100,000 words or more, nonfiction may be any length. Since the authors are experts in many subjects, you get an even greater variation in form. That’s good. The more options you have available to you, the better your chances of finding something that works for you.

You don’t want to spend too much of your hard earned money on bad books, but there is a solution to this problem. Buy used. Even small towns often have a used book store. When you pick up books for a fraction of the new price, the odd turkey doesn’t sting so much. If you’re a prolific reader, take advantage of the summer yard sale season and buy used books for a dollar or less.

Reading Beyond the Expert Level Makes You Unique

When you’ve studied something well enough to understand every area, you become an expert. You could stop there and just write what you know. You will be similar to everyone else who has achieved expert status. Wouldn’t you rather be more?

By reading everything that interests you, it’s possible to pull a wide variety of ideas into your field of expertise. For example, when I read The Wall by Jeff Long, I learned a lot about mountain climbing and used it in an article about goal achievement. That gave the article a unique visual element.

Can’t We Write More Without Reading?

How can you come up with more writing ideas without more reading? Life experience is one way. If your job brings you into contact with a variety of people and situations, it will supply you with lots of writing ideas. Your leisure time, vacations, and social activities are all sources of more ideas.

Another way to write more without reading is to consider what you’ve written already. How can you take it further? What is the next logical step? What is the next logical article or book?

So, yes, you can write more without reading. But do you really want to limit your creativity? When you maximize the influence of other writers, you maximize your output and add variety to your writing.

This is just my opinion. Perhaps yours differs.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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