Reading and writing are related to each other in the same way rain is related to a lake. It might be easy to say that the rain created the lake, since it was a visible process, but the truth is that the lake created the rain equally. Writers may put the words upon the paper, thus creating readers, but if nobody read, nobody would write. In this theoretical water cycle, we can easily mistake writing as the only way to develop your skill as a writer, but the substance of your writing also depends on how often you read--and what you're reading.
When I was a much younger writer, I was advised by one of my old teachers to read more, after I had shown her some of my work. I told her that I didn't want anyone else's story influencing my creativity, so I could be one-hundred percent sure that my story was my own... But the truth is, reading is not innately a way to get inspiration. Undoubtedly, it can and it will, but as a writer, you aren't diving into stories to take what you can get and run away with it. You're reading behind the lines, studying the subtext, focusing on the craft itself rather than the illusion it is casting. I have never read a story or watched a movie and thought, "I want to tell this exact story," because I don't. I already have the stories I want to tell, but I need to constantly be reading in order to ensure I am delivering that story in the best way possible. Take the following two lines, for example:
Jeremy walked into the room, closed the door, and sat on his bed. "This sucks," he groaned, and laid back.
Jeremy's hair lurched as he threw the door shut. His cheeks burned and his brows strained over his eyes, his hands washing over his face while he plummeted upon the bed, and sucked in a breath through his teeth. "This sucks." He fell back, and sprawled his arms out wide.
Both of these lines convey the same events, and any writer could come up with either, really. But what one has that the other lacks is more evocative prose, and prose is kind of like the clothes your story is wearing. You need it to be dressed for the occasion; whatever that chapter requires. There's nothing wrong with just telling us that Jeremy sat on his bed and said his situation sucks, but if your goal is to get the reader to feel what he is feeling--which, oftentimes, that is exactly our goal as writers--then it is much better to take the second option, and display a greater extent of his circumstance. It lets the reader in, and that type of intimacy with a character is what makes us want to keep reading something--and what makes us remember it thereafter. And how do we develop a strong memory of how to create that feeling? Well, we could experiment with writing the same line over and over again in different prose, or we could read enough to pick up on it intuitively. To use that intuition to apply focus, and then practice! Think of it like a sword: if you slice and slice and slice, you'll still probably cut what you're trying to cut, but if you sharpen that blade regularly, it'll take much less time to execute.
Here's an even better example:
He whipped the rock across the sea's petulant face, pockmarking one pore after the next as it bounced, skipping until it was caught by a lurching wave and drowned into the abyss. Jeremy loaded another bullet, but his fingers clenched it so tightly that his skin broke, and he dropped it to inspect the chalky blood.
Jeremy's arm lingered after letting the rock go, pointing it onward, counting with every skip how far it could get from this place. His arm swung to his side, creaking at the hinge, and his chest rolled out all of his breath. He picked up a new rock, eyes seeing but not watching, and he squeezed it while he forced himself alive with another breath. A sting brought his attention to his palm, where the little stone forked a river of blood.
Both of these paragraphs tell the same story, but one conveys a feeling of rage where the other conveys a feeling of hopelessness. What story do you want to tell? What words can you use to best convey that without saying it outright? These are the type of impressions that prose can give, and reading is the most effective way to develop your prose. It is a meal for you to consume, and if you eat it daily, you'll get all of those good, write-y vitamins!
What's another benefit reading has? Well, here's one for everyone: it disciplines you. Not only does committing to read every day--or every so often--set up a routine that you can stick to, it activates a part of your brain that many of us do not exercise anymore. Focus. We live in a world where everything is flashing around us, and we can't even hold our attention on something for longer than 60 seconds. In reality, attention is a skill, not an inherent trait, and we can train it. Instead of watching that episode of your favorite show while you eat dinner, forcing yourself to focus on just eating while in mealtime will eventually yield a more mindful experience. But that's difficult! You can read, instead, to get the bonus of entertainment all while training yourself to have a better attention span. It is the ultimate toy! Using reading as a way to discipline yourself, as a person, will allow you to carry that attention over to other things--like focusing on your food when you eat, if you're interested in mindfulness, or like being able to get into writer-mode and crank out that chapter you've been putting off because it's difficult to get in the zone.
As writers, we have a responsibility to ourselves to ensure that we are organizing these amazing, human thoughts we have as best as possible for where we're at in our journey right now. I believe that being a mindful writer means expanding your horizons and using your outlet to help others do the same. I hope I was able to make something that resonated with you here in this post. Be sure to let me know what you think down in the comments! What's your favorite book? What's something you read that really stuck with you?
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