Read, Read, Read . . . Really?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t reading. Long before I ever thought of writing I read. Remember those Reader’s Digest Condensed Books? “Condensed” now sends a chill up my spine but in the long ago days before I had access to a library I couldn’t wait for Dad’s next copy to arrive. What worlds those authors opened for me.

But I digress. Why READ when what you want to do is WRITE? There are four reasons that come to mind at once.

First, a writer needs exposure to different words, phrasings, and a variety of sentence structure. Writers never craft their words into stories in the same way, with the same voice. By reading widely you experience new words, new ways to express thoughts and ideas. We all have favorite books. Pick one up and look at the sentence structure, the verbs used. Good books share common characteristics and you can absorb some of them by reading, reading, reading.

Secondly reading widely broadens your horizons. You may think I mean read nonfiction to build your knowledge base. But it’s not just knowledge you can gain. When you combine nonfiction with fiction you learn how to ply the information you glean from both, learn how to mold it into your story. This opens new possibilities in story lines, in places you can set your story, and in complications with which you can torture you characters.

Thirdly, you can learn market trends--what editors want to buy. There is up to a year lag time between purchase and publication but you can still see what story types prevail in general. Think your story fits a certain publisher? Read, read, read their books, or the specific line you think yours would fit.

Fourth, read to experience the simple yet often profound enjoyment of the story. While rewarding in itself it will also help you learn the emotional strengths of the narrative and dialogue. Good stories touch the heartstrings in some way. Reading many authors shows you different ways to do this. It can reveal strengths and weaknesses, show the way to true poignancy and perhaps even a best seller.

I have way too many books in my house but worlds of knowledge and memories because of them. Please chime in with reasons I’ve overlooked. And, yes, as you write continue to read, read, read.


Reese Mobley said...

Wonderful explaination, Joan. I read for pleasure and also when I feel like my writing is a bit dull. It refills the well. Thanks.

Joan Vincent said...

Thanks, Reese. It's wonderful that even when we read strictly for pleasure we learn by osmosis, that is we absorb some information without being aware of it. I love it when we go camping because I take a book for each day. We hike and I read whenever we aren't.

Penny Rader said...

Terrific post, Joan. I'm addicted to reading. I feel lost if I don't have books around. This will probably sound weird, but just being able to see them, to touch them brings me comfort.

I have romance, women's fiction, regular fiction, suspense, mystery, and children's books. I have 'how to write' books as well as self-help, true crime, reference. All sorts of 'research' books to help me personally as well as create characters and their stories.

It makes me so sad when people tell me they don't read. I get such a kick out of seeing others read, whether it's my kids or my grandkids or my mom or even strangers. If I'm giving a gift to someone, it will most likely be a book.

Some of my family would probably say I have too many books, but how is that even possible? If the day comes that I can't have my books around...well, that's too sad to even contemplate.

Joan Vincent said...

Penny, I agree completely and have the same assortment of books! Books are my gift of choice to give or receive. When I was teaching getting the kids to read was my primary goal. I read aloud to my classes and to my own children from the time they were babies until in their teens (those later years by their request.) The last few years before the computer lab took over my life doing units (basing classes from math to geography) based on a book were popular. The kids I taught seemed to really love that and their reading of other books increased.

Penny Rader said...

Joan, I used to get so frustrated when I was a kid because I always asked for books for my birthday, Christmas, etc, but rarely received them. People would look at me and say, "Books! Why do you want books!" I thought there was something wrong with me. To feed my reading addiction, I either had to check books out of the school library (or the public library during the summer) or save up my money to buy them.

I was pretty tickled when one of my grandma's gave me Little Women for Christmas when I was 9 or 10. When I was 13 I was so sure I was going to get the Little House on the Prairie collection--I had told everyone that's what I wanted. Didn't happen. Boy, was I bummed. It took me a while to save up and buy it myself.

The teacher I had for 4th, 5th, and 6th grade (I went to a tiny Catholic school) used to read out loud to us. That's my best memory of her, listening to the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Old Yeller, etc.

Becky A said...

Miss Joan, is it possible to be a writer and not love to read? Books were some of the best friends I ever had. And I too will occasionally run my hands over the covers, or even the pages of whatever I'm reading. There is magic in the written word. Without it most of history would be lost. I have learned so many things from reading, just for pleasure, about the world I live in. People sometimes wonder how I know so much "stuff". I guess I need to say, "I read it in a book."
Thanks for your great post.

Joan Vincent said...

My girls almost came to blows over who got a collection of books they amassed as children with Scholastic book orders. I don't remember buying books as a child but I've more than made up for that. During my "middle school" years I was all for dogs and horses-- read all of the Jim Kjelgaard books--Big Red and of course Black Stallion etc, as well as the Little House series.
It has taken me forever to convince my children giving me money for books is a terrific gift.

Joan Vincent said...

Becky you are so right. Books are magic and can be lifesavers. Not only for the information they give us but also for the distraction they provide. It saddens me when someone is happy they don't read. There is no greater joy than turning someone "on" to reading.

Starla Kaye said...

Excellent explanation about the importance of reading and for so many different reasons. I've always been in love with books, all kinds and genres. I used to keep bookcases and bookcases of books, but I've been weeding them (fiction mainly) out the last couple of years. I like to share my books with others. And I prefer to read on my Kindle these days. But I love to read and that is the point.

Joan Vincent said...

Starla, Sharing books is such fun. Best when you know the person you give it to and can discuss it but even when you don't him/her. I joined the "pass it on" club several years ago. When I travel and finish a paperback I leave it in a public place with a note to enjoy and pass it on.

Nina Sipes said...

You are so right Joan.
Mom says I started to read from the writing on a carton of cigarettes. I believe her because any writing in eyesight gets read. Guests and family (not husband since he too is half guilty) have commented that our house will end up in the basement from the weight of the books upstairs. Might happen. I just culled out 7 paper grocery bags of books from our house when the movers came to move furniture for the painter. Can't tell they're gone...
I used to hide from my family to read because it upset my father so much to see me with my head stuck in a book. He wanted me to experience life--not read about it. My sister never ratted on me that I was actually in the attic crawl space reading by sunlight coming from a hole in the end near a vent. Books are friends that are always there, never jealous, never demanding. I estimated once how many books I've read over the years and figured out it is in the thousands. (Probably still under five thousand but definitely over two).
During my tutoring, it has been my very great pleasure to bring others to the joy of books. In my experience everyone would enjoy reading if they found the right book. Almost everyone loves movies. Therefore, if a reader is exposed to books like their favorite movie, they generally will like to read. However many school programs take the joy out of reading by demanding readers read required stories. I'm sure it is because they wish to impart a literary sense into their readers. The beginning joy of reading is pretty fragile. The beginner doesn't know how to find a story they would enjoy and so many helpers don't know either. Reading a book a person isn't interested in is like moving a mud puddle with your tongue--icky and off putting. I once gave a reading and a talk to children and parents at Walmart. There was a young girl there who was an outstanding reader, who wanted the book I was reading from so badly (she didn't have books in her home) that she stayed for three hours waiting for me to get finished so that she could have that book. I wanted to cry.
I have learned how to do things from books--like making pin lace like the middle age cottage industry people used to do it. I made the equipment as described so that I could make the lace. A good book can teach a person almost anything--including how to talk to people. I have one that helped me with that too. How to improve my sewing to how to cook a French omelet. When the Hog Confinement businesses were preparing to move into our county with lagoons that were to be several acres in capacity--it was a soil science book I used to counter their arguments for the unlined lagoon safety. The Kansas State Dept of Health and Environment believed me because I had a copy of the soil science book to prove my position. Books are essential to me. I can't imagine a life without them. (horrible secret--some I've read over 8 or 9 times...shush...they are romances....)

Joan Vincent said...

You are truly a woman after my own heart--maybe it's the farm girl in us. Starting from when I was around 10 I would slip into the attic to "borrow" the serial westerns my Dad thought hidden up there. Don't know why he thought they weren't fit to read but I loved them and sequed into Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour.
I encouraged kids to read anything and everything--some teachers didn't like that but I was head of the computerized reading program at school and even input tests for some of the books the kids loved. The idea was to get them hooked, to show them the worlds they could explore.
And your crack about the house ending up in the basement--well, I have worried a bit that all the full bookcases in my office might end up there!
I learne how to get published from a book--can't give books a higher recommendation than that.

snwriter52 said...

I love reading. Such a wonderful gift. I have books everywhere in our house.
Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.