One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read other writers. By reading the work of other writers, we can gain a multitude of benefits.
Reading fiction is like taking a vitamin for your brain, psyche, and soul all at the same time.
Besides creating something in our brain called grounded cognition, literary fiction also increases empathy because it helps us to “understand the emotions of others.” And specifically literary fiction, because it “has more depth,” is better for us than mainstream fiction. It’s like the difference between organic food and fast food for our bodies. The fast food might fill us up, but it won’t give us the same nourishment or have the same lasting beneficial effects as the organic food.
While these benefits can be had by anyone who picks up a novel or a short story, for writers, the benefits don’t stop there.
When we read other writers, it causes us to step outside our tried and true habits, go-to word choices, and predictable rhythms. Can you imagine having only one window from which to view the world and never being able to go outside?! Reading other writers affords us the opportunity to look through many windows and expand our view of writing and of the world.
Expanding our vocabularies is also important, as is studying how other writers turn a phrase. And we can reap the benefits by reading fiction both mindfully and unmindfully.
By reading mindfully, I mean that we can choose a particular book with the sole purpose of studying the mechanics of it to find new ways to freshen our own writing, which is not to say we should be moving away from our own voices that took so long to find in the first place, but being aware of how others utilize the language, approach story, and tend to character should be a regular exercise for any writer.
Likewise, reading unmindfully, just reading for pleasure, can also benefit our writing because it wakes up our imagination, works on our subconscious, plants seeds for future use that we aren’t entirely aware of.
And lastly, reading diversely is also important. Life is busy, and our days are full. Finding time to read our favorite authors is hard enough, but it’s also important to read authors who aren’t our favorites. Or authors we’ve never heard of. Especially under-represented authors. Filling our heads with as many voices at possible, letting them hang out together and talk to each other will only add to the rich cacophony of possibilities in our own work.
On my nightstand right now
Dear Husband, stories by Joyce Carol Oates
Henry and June by Anais Nin
Waste and Timelessness and other early stories by Anais Nin
* * *