Want an engine to start? Give it a little gas. Want to improve your writing? Read. This is the one of the top tips that a professional writer will give you, if you ask them how you can improve your craft. It seems so simple, but it’s something that we tend to neglect for various reasons. Maybe it’s put on the back-burner when we’re working on our next big ideas; or perhaps we’re somehow afraid that reading someone else’s work will alter our own in some way. Whatever the excuse may be, we need to find time to peruse a good story. Reading is beneficial to a writer. We learn from it.
As story tellers, we read books differently, noticing more detail, not only the wording itself, but in the structure and style. We analyze the construction of the sentences. Much like a car enthusiast checking out the curves of an old classic, we notice how they flow and when they don’t. The little cliff hangers left at the end of each chapter to keep the reader drawn in don’t escape our attention and scrutiny. We can sense when the arc of the story is off balance. These things aren’t us being too critical of others. They are the things that make us see how to improve ourselves.
Not only do we survey how the story is built, we also inspect the individual parts that make up the engine — the words. The wording of a horror story should be quite different than that of a romance novel — unless it’s one of those edgy cross-breeds. We see the way the language of the story being told works with the structure to complete the picture. A misplaced gasket can throw off the whole flow of a paragraph.
The benefits don’t end with what we learn from reading the work of others. We also can find inspiration. A writer’s mind can be an endless maze of ideas, but there’s always room for a few more. We don’t steal others’ ideas, but sometimes a good story ignites a spark within us — raises the great “what if…” One sentence can send our minds down a completely different path, and we just have to put the book down and write down our new little gems. That is one of the great things about having a creative mind. It never stops creating, as long as you give it some gas. Reading is our fuel.