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Old 11-22-2012, 03:51 PM   #1
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Why Is Reading Beneficial ?

... everybody says so when the topic comes up. "In order to be a writer you've gotta read lots of books." Though I hate being in agreement with the majority, I also believe it's essential and wish I had the ability to commit to it more.

What makes it so in your view? Can you site any specific instances where what you read directly helped your writing? Or is it more of a general feel of how to go about things that you pick up along the way without really being aware of it?

(apologies for my curiosity)
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Old 11-22-2012, 04:06 PM   #2
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Most of the ways that reading helps me are more intuitive than anything. Though I'm one of those people that can get to a certain point, but have a hard time explaining exactly how I got there to others.

As far as technique goes, I think that most of that is picked up without thinking. Pacing, how to set up your dialogue, where to start as well as end a scene. There are other things as well, like learning the current market, etc. You can learn all of that by having someone tell you how, but I think the easiest and most natural method is by absorbing it through reading other books. Some people set out to read something with the express intention of learning this or that specific technique. That works for some people, but not for me. YMMV

There is a rhythm and a cadence to writing. If you are producing in a vacuum I think it's really easy to miss out on that. Also, I think a lot of beginning writers end up wasting a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel. Reading widely helps with that problem quite a bit.

ETA: I forgot about inspiration. That's probably the number one reason I read other books. Reading amazing books, as well as crappy ones sometimes, makes me want to write more than anything else I could do. It just gets me pumped up.
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Old 11-22-2012, 04:10 PM   #3
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I don't see it as only got to. I see it as want to. I love stories and words. I can't imagine not wanting to immerse myself in them.
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Old 11-22-2012, 04:19 PM   #4
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I suspect the general idea is that if you want to be a writer you're going to love reading. I'm like that. I adore words and stories and ideas. I don't think I've ever read any books about writing - but I know every book I've ever loved has informed my own writing.

Committing to reading sounds odd, to me. I commit to things like exercise (well, I don't - but I always say I will.) Reading is just - that thing that happens But that's just one understanding of it. I'm sure there are as many writers around who came late to reading as there are the ones who had to be shooed away from their books as children.
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Old 11-22-2012, 04:26 PM   #5
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Yeah, committing to something like reading sounds odd to me, too. It implies effort. Reading is what I do. I'll commit to clearing all the dead leaves in my garden this weekend because I know it needs doing even though it's a pain in the arse.

I think the whole thing of if you've got time to be online or watch TV then you've got time to write applies to reading, as well.
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Old 11-22-2012, 04:41 PM   #6
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I've always loved books, but as a writer I find reading an essential act. It replenishes the words I've lost, shows me new ways to phrase things, gives me inspiration, entertains me, makes me jealous. Also, reading hits a sweet center where intuition lives. I need that as a writer.
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Old 11-22-2012, 05:09 PM   #7
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Every time you read you are expanding your mind, learning something new. Whether that be something about plot, characterization, style or even vocabulary.

I think everyone should read, not just writers, and especially books that push you intellectually and outside of your comfort zones.
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Old 11-22-2012, 05:48 PM   #8
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It replenishes the words I've lost,
I like that. That's a great way to put it.

When my well is dry, putting down words are like pulling teeth and I'd rather do ANYTHING than sit down to commit self-dentistry on myself, I read.

Then all the things I wanted to say that felt like dry leaves beneath my fingers are lush and full and alive again.
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Old 11-22-2012, 06:13 PM   #9
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It's also about being familiar with what others have written. And being able to recognize influences, or say "Hey, this book is a lot like that other book, except <author did this>."
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Old 11-22-2012, 06:16 PM   #10
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It replenishes the words I've lost, shows me new ways to phrase things, gives me inspiration, entertains me, makes me jealous.
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When my well is dry, putting down words are like pulling teeth and I'd rather do ANYTHING than sit down to commit self-dentistry on myself, I read.

Then all the things I wanted to say that felt like dry leaves beneath my fingers are lush and full and alive again.
This.

It reminds me what the work I'm doing is supposed to look and sound like (or, conversely, not supposed to look and sound like). It gives me new ways to look at things. It makes me a richer person in all those murky internal ways that I draw on when I write.

Every time I read a great book, I'll come across some amazing image, metaphor, or thought, and I'll rush back to my own work, helplessly inspired, to take the seed of that amazing thing and make it into something completely my own. It often happens with description, for me. For example, I'll read some gorgeous description of the sea and think, "This is how I see the stars," and take that writer's way of looking at something, but apply it to something else. So often, I find my eyes being opened by great fiction to totally new ways of looking at the world. That is my absolute favorite part of reading, and of writing, too.
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Old 11-22-2012, 06:28 PM   #11
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Committing to reading sounds odd, to me.
... time constraints, for one thing. And even though I like reading, it's never been an easy activity for me. Guess I'm not much good at it. My reading comprehension has always been poor. Probably hoovering around a 5th grade level. I also read slow and mouth the words. Words don't come natural or easy to me. Grew up on comic books. Still enjoy reading though and writing even though they're a challenge. Maybe that's why I like them? Or one of the reasons at least.
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Old 11-22-2012, 06:39 PM   #12
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... And even though I like reading, it's never been an easy activity for me.
Oh, that's surprising. I only know you from your posts - but I think you might be being a little bit hard on your reading comprehension level Also - I know a few people (all male) who read very slowly and mouth the words - all of them smart, just slow with the reading. My husband still uses his finger to guide his eyes across the page. Drives me crazy to see - but the thing is that he retains almost everything he reads. I gallop along like anything and retain very little compared to him. He still loves to read - but perhaps, yes, if reading is more difficult I can see where you'd have to commit to doing it. I hope it gets easier with time

ETA: (You've made me feel like I should rise to the challenge and commit to that exercise bike in the laundry. I'm not going to, though ... *sigh* )
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Old 11-22-2012, 07:04 PM   #13
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I read because I enjoy it, but when writing history you have to read around. It is so true that each person will present history differently based on their opinions. Reading allows you to get a more removed opinion and one that is really your own, it helps with vocabulary and it's fun.
Reading is much more productive than being sat watching daytime TV.
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Old 11-22-2012, 08:01 PM   #14
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Oh, that's surprising. I only know you from your posts - but I think you might be being a little bit hard on your reading comprehension level Also - I know a few people (all male) who read very slowly and mouth the words - all of them smart, just slow with the reading. My husband still uses his finger to guide his eyes across the page. Drives me crazy to see - but the thing is that he retains almost everything he reads. I gallop along like anything and retain very little compared to him. He still loves to read - but perhaps, yes, if reading is more difficult I can see where you'd have to commit to doing it. I hope it gets easier with time
This is so me, when reading non-fiction, I have to use a bookmark otherwise I just skim and don't absorb anything. I think of it as 'trying to teach myself to read non-fiction, as up until recently I read very little.
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Old 11-22-2012, 09:09 PM   #15
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For a second, I thought this was a rhetorical question.

Hmm... I read for enjoyment. The only reason I write is because I like to read. Why is reading beneficial? It teaches me different styles, different ways to write and form characters, and generally stretches my world view. If more people liked to read, the world would be a better place.

A specific example? When I was writing my last screenplay, I turned to something written by a "master" of the craft to see how certain scenes should wrap up and how the characters could interact in a more natural manner.
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Old 11-22-2012, 09:45 PM   #16
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Look at the questions that are often posted on this forum: "Am I allowed to do this?" "What is the correct way to punctuate this?" "Has anyone ever done this before?"

All valid, and I'll happily answer any and all of them. But ultimately they really do surprise me. Because by simply reading and reading you can get answers to all those questions. And in a far more entertaining way than in a list from some grammar book etc. So yes, reading is fun, but it also teaches. Everything I've learned, from basic grammar, to risk taking and breaking writing rules, I learned from reading. And the more you read, the more you learn.
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Old 11-22-2012, 10:28 PM   #17
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reading is beneficial because it helps you in many many ways. One way is it make you a good speller. Another way is, it improoves your grammer. It also helps you undurstand how paragraphs, chapters, and plots are putted together. Not to mention the way it insures that you know lots and lots of things about capitalizingization and punktuation.

Most of all, reading lotsa books gives you tips about what to wear and how to fix your hair for that special day when the photographer comes to take your picture for the dustjacket portrait. Just remember: Look sharp!
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Old 11-22-2012, 10:28 PM   #18
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First of all, reading is pleasure. I love getting lost in a good story.

As a writer, the only way to know what your genre and published work looks like is to read in your genre and read all the published books you can get your hands on. Otherwise you are a doctor without a license, a lawyer without a J.D., a professor without a Ph.D, an electrician without an apprenticeship, a car without a steering wheel.

(okay, maybe I overdid it a little, but you get the idea. ).
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Old 11-23-2012, 01:42 AM   #19
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As much as anything, it's subliminal. Reading a lot improves the overall feel for the bone marrow of language and expression. Children who read early, and read a lot, inevitably develop fluency of expression. That process of mental expansion has no limit in one's lifetime.

For any writer, that ongoing mental expansion is essential. The writer who has written most eloquently and enthusiastically about this exact topic is Ray Bradbury.

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Old 11-23-2012, 02:06 AM   #20
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All valid, and I'll happily answer any and all of them. But ultimately they really do surprise me. Because by simply reading and reading you can get answers to all those questions. And in a far more entertaining way than in a list from some grammar book etc. So yes, reading is fun, but it also teaches. Everything I've learned, from basic grammar, to risk taking and breaking writing rules, I learned from reading. And the more you read, the more you learn.
I agree 100%. This, in a nutshell is why reading is beneficial--as well as deeply satisfying and enjoyable.

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Old 11-23-2012, 02:37 AM   #21
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I read for all the reasons set out above and because it supposedly helps to keep your mind agile, which can help stave off Alzheimer's. Never go anywhere without a book and as I get older, I find I'm much more open to genres I'd never have touched as a teenager.

It helps me to think about characterisation, description, plot structure, twists, pacing. I had a moment last week where I was struggling with a big chunk of exposition and I read a book where they broke the exposition up into dialogue with other characters interrupting so you got the characterisation, relationship set up and the exposition all in one chunk. It opened up a solution to my own problem.

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Old 11-23-2012, 02:48 AM   #22
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Look at the questions that are often posted on this forum: "Am I allowed to do this?" "What is the correct way to punctuate this?" "Has anyone ever done this before?"
All valid, and I'll happily answer any and all of them. But ultimately they really do surprise me. Because by simply reading and reading you can get answers to all those questions. And in a far more entertaining way than in a list from some grammar book etc. So yes, reading is fun, but it also teaches. Everything I've learned, from basic grammar, to risk taking and breaking writing rules, I learned from reading. And the more you read, the more you learn.

The problem I've got is it seems to be a different part of my brain that observes things like that. When I read, I see story, pictures, characters, but how it all fits together on a technical level – not so much. Not so much as in not at all. If I want to find that out I have to study the writing like a textbook.

My mom reads close to a book a day on average, and she's a terrible speller.

Personally, I think good writers are good readers simply because the desire to read is a reflection on how much they like literature. It's hard to be good at something you're not interested in.
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Old 11-23-2012, 02:48 AM   #23
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If you've ever read a book on how to write a novel, you will find that every novel written serves as an example of something from that 'how to' book. That is why its so important to read. Other novels teach you what works and what doesn't work. Reading has taught me more about novel writing than any other source I've encountered...well except the Holt Handbook, maybe.
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Old 11-23-2012, 03:29 AM   #24
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I don't see it as only got to. I see it as want to. I love stories and words. I can't imagine not wanting to immerse myself in them.
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Every time you read you are expanding your mind, learning something new. Whether that be something about plot, characterization, style or even vocabulary.

I think everyone should read, not just writers, and especially books that push you intellectually and outside of your comfort zones.
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It's also about being familiar with what others have written. And being able to recognize influences, or say "Hey, this book is a lot like that other book, except <author did this>."
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If you've ever read a book on how to write a novel, you will find that every novel written serves as an example of something from that 'how to' book. That is why its so important to read. Other novels teach you what works and what doesn't work. Reading has taught me more about novel writing than any other source I've encountered...well except the Holt Handbook, maybe.
+1 to all of these. Aside from novels being great entertainment, and aside from the activity of reading being good exercise for the brain, there is a lot of technique involved in writing. We learn by studying the masters, and the best way to study is to right to the sources -- their books.
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Old 11-23-2012, 01:17 PM   #25
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As a musician, I find this question quite amusing. The idea that you could be a songwriter or composer without listening to any other music is just bizarre. It's part of who you are, it's running in your veins, and surrounds every thought.

Or, to put it a step further - what about a chef who only ever ate food he cooked himself?

It's crazy when you think about it!
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