On the Art of Reading Well to Write Well

By Briana Stoltzfus, Writing Mentor

Good writers are readers, not because they plagiarize or steal other people’s ideas or lack their own creative genius. They read because they know that creativity is bred by creativity. Jane Kenyon once said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.” She did not mean that one should copy sentences from Hemingway, Jane Austen or C. S. Lewis. She meant that writers should read to have meaningful words ringing in their ears and seeping into their sentences.

Annie Dillard, one of the brilliant writers of our day, once said of the writer, “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.” You may argue that you are not an aspiring novelist, so this advice is irrelevant. Likely you only read what is required and necessary. But I would argue, along with Dillard and Kenyon, that you need to read because reading will not only shape your writing, but it will shape your life.

Read to Learn

Reading will stretch your mind and broaden your understanding in ways that few other activities will. Active readers intentionally absorb the material, noticing genre, conversation and characters. They ask effective questions and note interesting sentence structure. They make long lists and set lofty goals of reading hundreds of titles. Although reading actively takes a greater degree of effort, it will allow you to absorb ideas, understand varying viewpoints and grow in knowledge.

Read to Spark the Imagination

Every writer will experience occasional droughts, when their imagination dries up and ideas become sparse. I’ve found that the greatest cure for a mental drought is a good book. Do yourself a favor: find a good book and immerse yourself in it. If your homework load is too much, then read a short story instead. If you cannot convince your eyes to communicate with your brain in the conversion of ink marks into words, then listen to an audio book.

Read to be Changed

Step outside your comfort zone of genres and read something new and different. Read a classic, a thriller, something historical, a mystery or a memoir. Read good books by dedicated authors, and never waste your time on something unprofitable.

You cannot read everything, so read only what is worthy of reading, what will change you. Ultimately, that would be the Bible, the Word of God. Reading the Bible will not only shape the way your writing evolves, but it will shape the way your life evolves. It is a book in which every word matters and every thought inspires and every story is tied to a much greater narrative. To write lifechanging words, read the book that has changed the most lives.

Read Well to Write Well

Books will mold you. But only great books will change you. Set aside time to learn, to spark the imagination and to be changed. Set aside time today, because there’s no better day to begin reading. Whether reading to write a research paper, to inspire your first short story or to build the outline of a novel, remember this: the best reading is that which draws you towards Jesus Christ. In short: to write well, read well.

Whatever creative project or research paper or reflective essay you’re working on, the Writing Center is excited to assist you. Schedule an appointment at lbc.edu/ally

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