Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Do Writers Read?

Umberto Eco, an Italian philosopher, literary critic, and novelist, was quoted in the UK Guardian (May 24, 2011): “I’m a writer, not an author.”

Can you imagine a chef never tasting another’s cooking? Or an artist never drinking in the beauty of another’s creation? What about a musician never listening to music of any kind? There is something about celebrating others who do what you do -- other writers, authors, experts, and authorities. By celebrating others and supporting their work, you gain a higher level of appreciation for the craft you are honing.

Oftentimes, writers think that if they read other books in the same genre or with a similar subject matter as theirs, that it will somehow taint their ability to write effectively. These writers are afraid that they might unwittingly incorporate the storyline, twist of suspense, phraseology, or other writing technique of another author. That is a fair concern. However, most often the reality is quite the contrary. 

Reading the works of other talented authors serves to sharpen your own writing style, your storytelling ability, and your grasp of the language. I get inspiration and satisfaction from reading an eclectic mixture of materials, including those in the same genres in which I write. Not only does reading feed my soul, it also builds my intellect and boosts my skills. 

So why should you read?
  • Read for fun! As you read just for the sake of reading, you will subconsciously notice innuendos, twists in the tale, or attention-grabbing prose that will help sharpen your own writing style.
  • Read to get new ideas. Even if the subject of the book you are reading now is not related to the book you are presently writing, you’ll still get fresh insights.
  • Read to keep your mind sharp. Reading is never a waste of time – if you aren’t learning something constructive, you may still learn something NOT to do in your own writing.
  • Read to enhance your knowledge and your conversation. Talking about an interesting book is always a good conversation starter – but don’t give away the ending!
  • Read and write alternatively to find your own style. Experiment until you find what is natural to you.
  • Read to expand your vocabulary. Make note of new or unfamiliar words you read. Practice using them in your own writing.
  • Read for sheer enjoyment and entertainment. There is pleasure, relaxation, humor, suspense, drama, revelation, knowledge, and so much more to be found on the pages of a good book. Let reading become your preferred form of entertainment.
I agree with Charles W. Eliot who said, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

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