Writers are readers. You’ve probably heard the story. Someone read a book and said, “Well, if that’s all it takes, I can do this . . .” And next thing you know, they’re a famous author. Take Ngaio Marsh, one of the golden age detective authors. Inspired by Agatha Christie’s work, she created her own detective series and is remembered today for her excellent mysteries.
Or maybe some reader loved reading but couldn’t find enough books that they liked, so they wrote some of their own. Such was the case for Robin McKinley who wanted fantasy that was “grand and majestic with girls.” She started writing it herself and won the Newbery Medal for one of her books in 1984. Well that’s all very well, you might say. But why is it that good writers are readers? Well, let’s first take a look at . . .
The Benefits of Reading
Studies have long shown the benefits of reading, and it’s not a stretch to connect these benefits to your writing.
- The Matthew Effect: Studies show that reading increases vocabulary. This was dubbed “the Matthew Effect” by Merton in 1968, based on the verse in Matthew 13:12, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, given what he has will be taken away.” The more you read, the more your vocabulary will grow. Whether you realize it or not, your brain is very good at contextualizing words in context as you read. Consequentially your vocabulary gained through reading will shine in your writing as you’re able to articulate just what you mean with the right word.
- Increased empathy —In addition to reading increasing your IQ thanks to vocabulary building, studies have also shown that it can increase your EQ as well. In one fascinating study, readers were better able to describe and accurately interpret emotions shown through a series of photographs. This emotional intelligence gained through reading will shine in your own writing as you capture characters’ feelings and personalities.
- Stress Reduction —Life is stressful, but reading reduces stress, and the simple act of getting lost in a book has been shown to lower high blood pressure, slow your heart rate, and ease stress. So if you’re suffering from a bad case of writer’s block and feel the stress mounting, a reading break might be just what you need to cut through the fog.
- Improve your sleep —as long as you don’t stay up too late reading! Reading before bed can be just the thing for preparing you for a good night’s sleep. You’ll wake up refreshed and ready to head back to your writing. Or maybe your book . . . . But you get the idea!
If those benefits aren’t enough reason to convince you that good writers are readers, let’s take a look at what some famous authors have to say about reading.
Famous Authors Enjoy Reading
We’ll start with C. S. Lewis. Famous for the Chronicles of Narnia and the author of many other books, Lewis wrote,
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
Hemingway touched on books and empathy, reading, AND writing:
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”
And guess who wrote this:
“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”
That would be J. K. Rowling whose Harry Potter series has transported many readers already.
Which leads us to . . .
Pleasure Reading for Writing Inspiration
Have you ever read a book and thought, “This was so good. I wish there were more books like this. What if I wrote . . . . .”? That would be an example of pleasure reading sparking your imagination which in turn provides some inspiration for your writing.
The books you read for pleasure can help inspire your writing. Also, when you read within the genre you are writing, you are learning your competition. This can be invaluable when you are pitching your own book.
Don’t let these benefits take the pleasure out of pleasure reading though. As one author put it, “read widely enough to know what delights you, what you would like to imitate, and what you want to stay away from.”
So whether it’s poetry, the latest bestseller, a childhood favorite, or a recent nonfiction, find a book you can read for pleasure. By experiencing a variety of writing styles your own writing will improve both through imitation of the good and avoidance of the bad.
Now that we’ve covered reading for pleasure, let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum.
Reading for Research
No matter what type of writing you find yourself doing, there will be a time you have to look something up. And, as Neil Gaiman has observed,
“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”
What does that mean for you? Step away from Wikipedia and find yourself a book that will answer your research questions.
Whether it’s finding a book about history so you can capture a historical period, or a book about science to help your science of outer space makes some kind of sense, there are always books to be read for research purposes. While you’ll usually be on a quest for answers, don’t miss jotting down the new ideas that come into your head while you are reading for research. That one sentence idea now might just be your next big writing project.
Why the best readers make the best writers
Think about and combine all these elements. From health benefits to brain boosting, from famous writers who have loved books to your own independent pleasure reading. And that’s not even mentioning those books you read for research . . . all of these contribute to your writing. Given how reading can enhance and improve your writing, is it any wonder that readers are writers? So, what are you waiting for? Go read a book!