5 BENEFITS OF READING TO WRITERS
The reading culture seems to be declining steadily around the world. A US Department of Labour continuous Time Use Survey reported by writer Caleb Crain showed that “between 2003 and 2016, the amount of time that the average American devoted to reading for personal interest on a daily basis dropped from 0.36 hours to 0.29 hours” and has continued its downward slide.
Similarly, an article on reading habits in Nigeria by Martha Yahi of the Mass Communication Department, University of Maidugri identified the same trend in Nigeria. In her words, “The reading culture which was common among Nigerian students, youths and adults in the past has been significantly eroded.” The same can be said of other countries across the globe.
I recall when I was in the secondary school in the late 1970’s and the university in the early 1980’s, you could easily identify students in town because they always had books with them, particularly novels, even during the holidays. Books, newspapers and magazines also flourished and people strived to know and discuss the ideas in them. Now most people are buried in their phones and laptops and not always for the best purposes.
There are many reasons for the reverse in practice. In the case of Nigeria, some of the factors identified by commentators as responsible for the prevailing poor reading culture are high cost of books, poor library facilities, greater television viewing due to the introduction of colour and multiplicity of choice with cable subscription, computers and the internet which have unleashed captivating and distracting entertainment plus the desire to make money quick due to the elevation of affluence over education and enlightenment.
While reading has the potential of building an enlightened and critical citizenry, this post addresses some of its specific benefits to writers- aspiring and practising.
I shall focus on creative writers in this piece and how you as such a writer can be enriched by avid reading of novels, plays, anthologies of poems and stories, among other documented materials.
5 Benefits of Reading to Writers
Reading gives one an endless supply of what to write about. For instance, perusing a book about endangered species can inspire one to write a script about a poacher of wildlife in a game reserve for a short film. In the same vein, reading a novel about industrial espionage can give one ideas on other forms of corporate desperation to write about, like coerced headhunting.
The two examples below are: First, a poem inspired by media reports about women and girls who have suffered abuse and the trauma they face. Second, a story inspired by research reports on the negative influence of television entertainment on youths.
2. Building of vocabulary:
Reading increases the words at one’s disposal. This leads to graphic descriptions; trenchant discourses; and smooth, rather than jagged or incoherent narrations. A limited vocabulary manifests in repetition of words where a variety of synonyms would have relieved the resulting monotony, it makes composition of rhymes arduous, constrains fluid presentation of prose and traps one’s writing in a pedestrian mould.
The poem below shows how a wide vocabulary can help one write a monorhyme. Composing a poem that the last word in every line ends with the same or similar sounds, which convey the required meaning in each case requires a rich vocabulary.
3. Broadening of one’s horizons:
The expanse of knowledge a writer gains from reading results in more authentic and convincing creations. You may be a student or housewife but reading exposes you to the lives of lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, computer programmers, etc. You can write about them in your work as though you were one of them. You may have lived in a little town all your life but reading takes you to big cities in your country and abroad. It also takes you to the countryside. Thus, your writing will be true to the situation in those places although you’ve never physically been there.
Reading also exposes you to other people’s cultures, worldviews and opinions about trending issues. These help in omniscient narration where you reveal the thoughts of your characters and in phrasing their conversations. You cannot accurately depict the cross section of views and experiences in society in your writing if you’re trapped in your own head. You need a regular glimpse into the lives, activities and words of others. Reading gives you unfettered access to that, especially with the explosion of posts and interactions through blogs, the social media and independent web sites. This is part of the reason I delve into the comment sections of posts often to see the divergent ways people see issues.
Below is a story I set in the Big Apple although I’ve never been to the US or to that city. The story also shows how different people view love and religion.
4. Instruction in writing techniques:
***Reading helps writers of poetry learn how to compose different types of rhymes and free verse, how to metrically arrange their verses, how to structure their poems as couplets, quatrains, sonnets, etc.
Below is the link to a poem of eight quatrains rhymed abab:
***Reading helps writers of creative fiction and non-fiction with examples of arresting story beginnings and endings; plot and character development; the use of dialogue, humour, suspense, narration and description; different points of view, and the like to enable them apply these techniques effectively in their own writing.
I hereby share a story that illustrates the use of humour and required register in a story (soccer terms):
***Reading helps playwrights to learn about the appropriate delineation of acts and scenes; vivid description to enable the proper building of sets during production; the use of action, dialogue and music; among other features that make for an entertaining and engaging play.
The use of lively dialogue is illustrated in this scene called “The Waiting Room” culled from the play, “The Death of an Insurance Salesman,” by D. M. Larson.
Reading is a great way to relax and unwind. I love reading romance, detective and spy novels. Such reading provides escape that enables one to come back fresh to his or her work.
It goes without saying that one cannot offer what one does not have. Reading enlarges one’s repertoire of knowledge and skills which invariably improve their writing output. Read and reread the physical books in your library and borrow more from colleagues, friends and relatives. Besides, with digital devices and the internet, reading materials have become inexhaustible. What you need is cultivation of interest and discipline to tap this endless resource. Voracious reading of books, journals, legacy and alternative media reports, blogs and social media posts by individuals, will keep you updated and sharpen your skills for higher heights in your writing career.
Crain, C. (2018, June 14). Why we don’t read, revisited. The New Yorker.
Yahi, M. (2019, September 22). Decline in reading culture in Nigeria. Blueprint newspaper. https://www.blueprint.ng/decline-in-reading-culture-in-nigeria/