Science has suggested multiple benefits for reading, such as the obvious: increased knowledge and vocabulary, improved focus and concentration, better memory, mental stimulation, stress reduction, and the most important pertaining to a writer–increased writing ability.
I have found that reading truly is the basis for growth as a writer. When I am reading a lot, I start to write better, especially when I find a writer whose style I admire.
But over the years, what I’ve really started working on is this: Read more books, and write fewer words.
Note that I don’t mean write less often or fewer stories. But a good writer cuts the fluff and yet writes description concisely.
Why You Should Read More:
Besides the obvious things I listed above, reading teaches you a lot about the nuances of language.
Most writers are avid readers. They love a good story, but also an eloquent turn of phrase. Many writers I know will highlight a passage that especially speaks to them, or even mark favorite paragraphs to study them later. Many writers will take a favorite book and outline it, noting where the inciting event falls, where the first and second plot points are, the pivot points, etc.
As a writer, we can utilize everything we read, ponder it, and use it later in our own writing. We can learn from the masters. So read a lot, and read widely.
Why Should You Write Less:
Almost every beginning novelist’s first novel is a beast of a book, many thousands of words, many of them superfluous.
I know in my own first novel, I wrote whatever I wanted, I didn’t plot, I didn’t even think about plot, and I hardly thought about what was going to happen except what I wanted to happen. That book was for me, every last word of it. I wrote until my time with those characters ended, and then I put that novel away and said good-bye to them.
But were I to look back at that novel now, I have a feeling that much of it would be unnecessary to plot and unnecessarily telling. Were I to ever return to that novel (should I be able to find it), it would require many words to be deleted.
Sometimes good writing isn’t about more words, but about fewer words and more meaning.
Here’s an example from my current WIP.
Tate chuckled, took my hand in his, and tucked it into the inner part of his elbow. He leaned over to my ear as we descended, me on his opposite side than before now, so the wall offered no bannister for me to grab should I stumble again. I tightened my grip on him and lifted my skirt with my free hand to make sure I didn’t fall all the way down the stairs.
This is all fine and good. It’s descriptive, it sets the picture. But it is a bit wordy, a little too descriptive and doesn’t tell us much when you actually examine it.
Let’s try again.
Tate chuckled and tucked my hand into his opposite arm from before. Now I had nowhere to grab but him and, while I lifted my dress with my free hand, I almost hoped to fall so I could hold him tighter.
Which is more descriptive of the situation? Which is more interesting? Hopefully you said the second one to both questions. While the first gets the job done, the second reveals more about the character and situation.
Reading and writing are indivisible. You can’t truly love to write unless you love to read. So do both, but pay attention to all that you can while reading, and then watch how it infiltrates your writing.