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Tuesday, 23 February 2016 01:16

The Importance of Reading for Writers

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I’m probably not the only writer out there disturbed by the number of people I encounter these days wanting or attempting to write a book when they don’t read them.

To me this is like someone trying to learn to play an instrument who never listens to music.

In the years I taught violin, whenever I started a new crop of beginners I could always tell which ones listened to music at home and which ones didn’t.

The ones that did had a concept of the sound of the instrument already in their inner ear. And somehow, from the first time they touched their bow to the strings, that internalized concept guided their efforts. You could hear the difference.

It has to be the same with writers and reading. All the how-to-write books and courses in the world can’t help someone get the music of language into their heads. The rhythm and articulation of the words, the flow of well-constructed sentences, syntax, dialogue, etc. are things that can only be assimilated through repeated exposure.

If you don’t read fine work, how can you expect fine work to come out of you?

I guess in a way it’s the old ‘wax on, wax off’ principle:  Good writing in, good writing out.

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3 comments

  • Comment Link Jim Krehbiel Friday, 11 March 2016 19:51 posted by Jim Krehbiel

    Whether it's a beginner or advanced student, I can always tell who listens to music and who does not! It's what they've heard that influences what they produce. The parallels between writing and music seem never ending!

  • Comment Link Diane Hester Friday, 04 March 2016 06:26 posted by Diane Hester

    Spoken like a musician, Jim! Did you have that experience as well in your years of teaching violin? Could you tell the kids who listened to music vs the ones who didn't? (But you probably never taught real beginners, did you. I think it's more apparent when they're first starting out.)
    And as you say, shaping a literary work is much like a composer shaping a symphony.

  • Comment Link Jim Krehbiel Wednesday, 02 March 2016 13:34 posted by Jim Krehbiel

    I couldn't agree more! Early on, I wasn't much of a reader. Always told myself, I was too busy. But now, since I've started to write, I've become a voracious reader. For me, it's not only the syntax, dialogue ... etc., that I absorb, but how an author "shapes" the work. I'm fascinated by the arc of the work, the creation and resolution of tension, the character development. Absolutely, reading good writing is essential for anyone who is serious about their own writing.

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