Most successful writers advise you to read as much as possible. They are voracious writers themselves. Why does it help if you read a lot? I mean aren’t there thousands, even if not millions of readers all over the world who read maybe, 10 books in a month with no intention of ever becoming a writer? Why don’t they turn into great writers?
It is very simple. Millions of people all over the world are constantly glued onto their TV screens when the football World Cup is taking place. Are they all planning to become footballers? That’s not the point. Players watch other players playing all the time. An average footballer knows about all the matches that have been played during his or her lifetime. A chess player knows every game of famous chess players. Musicians attend concerts and live music shows.
When you are actually involved in an art, experiencing the manifestation of that art in someone else isn’t just entertainment or thrill. You are constantly learning by osmosis. Even when you’re not learning, when you read other writers, the brain parts that control your writing skills are constantly stimulated.
As a writer, when you read the work of another writer, whether you realize it or not, you are constantly learning. You learn how to express various emotions. You learn to use words in the right context. You learn to explain features and environments. You learn to evoke emotions that can move people to tears. I’m not saying that these skills cannot be acquired in isolation because after all, the classical writers we admire so much didn’t have access to so much literature. Even if great quantities of literature was available, it was very difficult to actually access it. Nonetheless, they are still able to amaze their readers even after centuries. So you also have inbuilt qualities and skills and eventually these inbuilt qualities and skills make you a successful writer.
Talking about classical writers, they had something that we don’t, and this lack of the thing that they had and we don’t, can be compensated by reading. They had lots of time to think. Although every leader in every age has its own share of distractions and disturbances, the sort of distractions and disturbances that we have in the form of the Internet, social media, 24 x 7 channels and mobile technology is unprecedented. We are always in a state of disturbance. This doesn’t give us enough mental space to think about people stuff. No wonder everybody advises you to use smaller sentences and easier words. Look at the way Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham and even PG Wodehouse wrote. Today’s generation finds it extremely hard to read them simply because it does not have the required attention span. Writers are facing the same problem.
Reading can solve this problem. When you read, you leave the world around you and enter the world of the book. You are totally immersed in the story or the topic. You’re constantly interacting with words, sentences and paragraphs. You’re focusing on a single chain of thoughts.
I’m a big fan of digital books, but if you’re using a tablet to read your books, you’re carrying around a big bag of disturbances in the form of connectivity. That is why it is better to use a dedicated e-book reader rather than an all-purpose tablet.
Although you don’t have to go to the extremes of Samuel Johnson who said, “A man will turn over half a library to make a book,” reading should be a regular part of your writing process. Knowledge gives you confidence. It helps you build your own style.