Do Good Readers Make Good Writers?

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I have always found that strong writers tend to be avid readers. It was certainly my experience. I have always liked to read and can still remember working on school papers as a kid and asking myself, does that sound like something I’d read? I couldn’t tell you much about grammar, syntax, or the elements of style, but I had an instinct for how words should be put together. That feel for language came from reading.

But it’s not a universal rule. I have often come across parents of children who devour books, but still write poorly. This was a curious contradiction to me until I did more probing. What I found was that students like this were almost always fast readers. The books they consumed were usually narrative — novels or short stories — and they raced through them. These were readers who were always tempted to skip sections and even sometimes read the last page early because they were so eager to find out what happens.

My theory is that fast readers (not necessarily “speed readers”) tend to love the tale and care little for the telling. They find lengthy descriptive passages boring. They’d rather get on with what happens next. They want action, events, plot.

I, on the other hand, was always a slow reader. I read by ear more than by eye and heard every word in my head. I often moved my lips or read aloud quietly to myself. I didn’t do it intentionally — it was the only way I knew how to read — but I’m convinced it was this “hearing” of the words that helped me develop my writing intuition.

If you are a reader who struggles to write, think about how you read. If you tend to race through to get to the good parts, I’d recommend you slow yourself down. There’s nothing wrong with reading fast. In fact, the ability to skim over material can come in quite handy. But if you want your reading to help you in your writing, learn to find pleasure in words. Not just the meaning of words, but the rhythms and textures of the words themselves. Make reading more like enjoying a fine meal, not like scarfing down a sandwich on your way out the door.

At least occasionally, read out loud or have someone read to you. Get recorded books and listen to them as you read along, or even when you’re driving in the car. Get the sound of good writing into your head, not just the sight of it.

And pay attention to the kinds of books you read. I believe that any reading is usually better than more passive entertainments like TV and movies, but I don’t believe all books are created equal. Some are just frankly better and better written than others. The more you read quality, well-crafted books, the better the influence will be on your own writing.

Do you want to write better? Read better, and read better books. Simple as that.

 

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Linda
    Linda05-16-2012

    Oops! That should have been told instead of tole. Looks like I need to look at my own writing a little more closely. ­čÖé

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-16-2012

      Thanks for your thoughts, Linda. I know another homeschool speaker who advocates poetry memorization for this reason too. He believes it helps develop an ear for the cadences of language. Makes sense to me.

  2. Linda
    Linda05-16-2012

    Being a good writer, I think, requires being a good and generally avid reader. But it doesn’t, as you point out, always work in reverse. I work with both developmental and non-developmental writers at our local community college, and often students score much better on reading placement tests than they do on the writing tests. Of course, I’m not sure what sort of reading they have to do on the tests. It could be — and probably is — very pedestrian.

    I’ve noticed that often it’s those who can read but don’t who don’t write well. But, like you, I have also run across those students who do read but don’t write well. And from what they’ve tole me they read, they do probably read for the story more than for anything else. But I’m not sure speed is the primary issue. Maybe it’s the skipping over the boring parts. But then, I’ve always been a pretty fast reader (though, I, too, hear all the words in my head), and I do a fair amount of skimming when I’m reading popular fiction. But I haven’t always done it to the degree I do today. But mainly that’s a time issue.

    I do like the idea of audio books for getting the sound of the written language into someone’s mind. But I really think students need to see a lot of good writing on a page, too, before it will become a significant influence on their writing.

  3. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko05-15-2012

    Thanks, Nancy. We love audio books on family trips.

  4. Nancy
    Nancy05-15-2012

    I agree with much of what you’ve said, particularly about the types of books being read. Throughout my 14 years of homeschooling, my children had to pick library books from a list I gave them. It was a LONG list and they were always able to find selections they enjoyed. I did allow for the occasional formula fiction like Babysitters Club, though, if they requested such.

    Using audiobooks is especially helpful for children with language learning disabilities. One of my daughters has these kinds of disabilities and listening instead of reading allowed her to enjoy the stories while ‘hearing’ the excellent writing. My non-LD daughter enjoyed audiobooks, too.

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